BELLEFONTE, Pa. (CBS/AP) — A police detective was questioned for a third day Tuesday about the events at a Penn State fraternity house earlier this year that led to the death of a 19-year-old pledge who endured a series of falls during a night of heavy drinking.
Showing no emotion, Jim and Evelyn Piazza walked into the Centre County Courthouse to hear evidence against 16 former members of their late son’s fraternity.
Lawyers for members of the now-shuttered Beta Theta Pi house have been pressing State College police Detective Dave Scicchitano about his investigation into the pledge ceremony and subsequent party that preceded the Feb. 4 death of Tim Piazza, of Lebanon, New Jersey.
Scicchitano said joining in the drinking was a “rite of passage and the way to get in” to the fraternity.
The defense attorneys have also questioned Scicchitano about whether Piazza fell down a set of basement steps the next morning or could have walked down. The detective said both scenarios are possible.
Among the issues is whether Piazza, a sophomore engineering student, would have felt pressured into drinking as he and other pledges were directed through a series of drinking stations involving beer, wine and vodka.
District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller spent two full days presenting her case in front of a judge and now 16 defense attorneys plan to cross-examine her witness.
Multiple heated exchanges took place between Parks Miller and the 16 defense attorneys, as one even called her a liar. The judge told both sides to stop the shouting.
Most of the Piazza episode was caught on surveillance video. Portions of the video were played.
Outside of court, Rocco Cipparone, the attorney for Michael Bonatucci, said his client wasn’t there “during any of the critical times.”
“He served a couple of kids who are not Timothy Piazza beer and then he pretty much disappears during the rest of the night. He wasn’t there during any of the critical times,” Ciapparone said of Bonatucci, a former Beta member who is charged with involuntary manslaughter.
It’s ultimately up to the judge to decide if there is enough evidence to move forward with separate trials.
On Monday, Parks Miller presented multiple text messages between Beta members following Piazza’s death.
Some former fraternity members face involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault charges in Piazza’s death. Others face less serious charges, including evidence tampering and hazing.
The hearing is set to continue on August 11 and 12 , given the number of defendants.
Miller said Scicchitano will be her only witness.
The Piazza’s family left the courtroom when the video came up on the screen. It clearly showed Piazza in those final moments before falling down the stairs.
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