Mixed verdict reached in Penn State frat-fall death case


Former Beta Theta Pi house manager Braxton Becker, center, leaves the Centre County Courthouse after being found guilty of one misdemeanor on Thursday, May 30, 2019 in Bellefonte, Pa. Becker was accused of intentionally deleting basement video from the fraternity house after Penn State sophomore Timothy Piazza fell down the steps in 2017. (Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times via AP)

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BELLEFONTE, Pa. (AP) — The former house manager of a Penn State fraternity where a pledge fell during a night of hazing and drinking and later died was convicted of hindering apprehension Thursday but acquitted of evidence tampering and obstruction.

The Centre Daily Times reported a jury deliberated about five hours before issuing the verdict against Braxton Becker, 22, of Niskayuna, New York.

It was the first criminal trial to result from the February 2017 death of 19-year-old Tim Piazza, of Lebanon, New Jersey.

Piazza consumed a large quantity of alcohol the night of a pledge bid acceptance ceremony at the Beta Theta Pi house. His death led to passage of a stricter state anti-hazing law.

Piazza’s agonizing night was captured on the house’s extensive system of security cameras, but footage from the basement was not initially provided to investigators.

Becker was accused of deleting basement security camera footage to thwart the probe in the days after Piazza’s death from severe head and abdominal injuries.

Becker’s defense lawyer, Karen Muir, and the attorney general’s office both declined comment, citing a judge’s gag order.

Becker’s sentencing on the misdemeanor charge was scheduled for August.

Muir focused during closing argument on what State College Police investigators observed as Becker retrieved video from a closet in the fraternity house shortly after Piazza’s death.

Earlier testimony indicated it would have taken about 50 seconds to delete the video, and she counted down the time before jurors.

“Do you believe (State College police Detective Craig) Ripka wasn’t paying attention during a death investigation?” she asked jurors.

The missing video surfaced in July 2017, when police in the house for an unrelated investigation realized there were security camera angles they had not seen footage from.

The FBI recovered the deleted footage, and said it disappeared at the precise time on Feb. 6, 2017, that Becker was photographed by police working with the system.

Piazza was in visible agony during the night he spent on the house’s first floor, at times clutching his abdomen and stumbling toward doors. He ended up in the basement by the next morning, but the fraternity brothers who found him unconscious waited 40 minutes to summon an ambulance. He later died at a hospital.

About a dozen members of the shuttered fraternity have pleaded guilty in the case, generally to hazing and alcohol violations. Others have entered a diversion program designed for first-time, nonviolent offenders.

Two former brothers still have pending charges — former president Brendan Young and former pledge master Daniel Casey. Those matters are on hold while a pretrial issue is being appealed.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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