Emotions run high during hearing for Penn State frat members

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Testimony: Panic, possible cover-up in PSU death. Chad Pradelli reports during Action News at 5pm on July 10, 2017. (WPVI)

Emotions ran high in a Centre County courtroom on Monday during the preliminary hearing for more than a dozen frat members who are charged in connection with the February death of a pledge after a night of drinking.

The hearing in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, began with a 10-hour proceeding last month, when a detective was the lone witness.

The case centers on the death of 19-year-old Tim Piazza, of Lebanon, New Jersey.

The testimony on Monday alleged that in the hours and days after Tim Piazza's death, allegedly from the alcohol fueled hazing inside the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, frat members began to understand the trouble they were facing.

State College Police Detective Dave Scicchitano was back on the stand. He testified fraternity president Brendan Young texted his girlfriend, "you don't fully comprehend the situation."

He also texted, "At end of day, I'll be one accountable for it all."

Prosecutors also hammered away at the alleged cover-up.

In a text from Young to pledge master Daniel Casey, he allegedly wrote, "Make sure the pledges clean the basement and get rid of the evidence of alcohol."

Casey allegedly replied, "They're taking care of the basement."

Police also testified that a search of Casey's computer turned up searches for deleting group chats and a search for "How would 9 drinks in an hour affect a 200 pound guy?"

At one point prosecutors say Casey texted his girlfriend saying, "It's over. I don't want to go to jail for this."

In another text defendant Gary Dibileo said to a fellow fraternity member, "It's not the fact that he drank. He drank because we hazed him too. Main word being hazed."

Centre County DIstrict Attorney Stacy Parks Miller spent the day hammering away at the written word from the defendants and the alleged cover-up by some.

With 16 attorneys defending their clients, it was testy in the courtroom at times.

"It's the courtroom, it's the battlefield," said William Brennan, who represents Joey Ems of Philadelphia. "She's a passionate litigator. I don't take anything personal in her approach."

Former Sandusky prosecutor Frank Fina, who is defending fraternity president Brendan Young from Malvern, spent the afternoon trying to show Piazza was never forced to drink and voluntarily did so.

The 19-year-old had an estimated blood alcohol level of 0.4 on the night of February 2, and suffered multiple injuries as surveillance video captured him repeatedly falling throughout the Beta Theta Pi House.

Fraternity members didn't call 911 for 12 hours, but by then it was too late.

"It's a horrific act. A young man lost his life, but it doesn't mean that Joey Ems did a criminal act," said Brennan.

The hearing will resume Tuesday.

Some of the members of the now-shuttered Beta Theta Pi fraternity are accused of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault, while others face less serious allegations. Two previously waived the preliminary hearing.

A judge will decide if there's enough evidence to send the case to county court for trial.
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