BELLEFONTE, Pa. — Fourteen members of a disbanded Penn State fraternity must stand trial in the hazing death of a pledge, but a judge on Friday tossed out the most serious charges, including involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault.
Eight of the former Beta Theta Pi brothers saw those serious charges dismissed. In addition, four of the total 18 defendants had all of their charges dropped.
The charges that remain are misdemeanors, and the former Beta brothers originally facing aggravated assault counts, a first-degree felony, could have seen as many as 10 to 20 years in prison if found guilty.
Some of the defendants are still facing a reckless endangerment charge, which carries up to a two-year prison sentence, as well as hazing and alcohol-related charges.
After the judge's ruling, District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller announced that she plans to refile charges and denied there was prosecutorial overreach because the more serious charges were dropped.
"We obviously believe in the original charges or we wouldn't have brought them," Miller said.
The family of Timothy Piazza, the 19-year-old sophomore who died following the party at the Beta house in February, are "devastated," she added. "We have to go through this terrible process again."
It was not immediately clear if the students will be tried together, but District Judge Allen Sinclair said he wouldn't expect the trials to begin until at least the spring.
Two other fraternity members had earlier waived their right to a preliminary hearing, but must still go to trial.
The defendants have denied all charges.
Piazza was at a Beta pledge event on Feb. 2, when police said he fell down basement steps during a night of excessive drinking. First responders were not called until almost 12 hours later — after various brothers tried unsuccessfully to give him any meaningful assistance, prosecutors alleged.
Piazza died two days later. A coroner ruled his death accidental and said he sustained multiple traumatic injuries from the fall.
During the course of the preliminary hearing, which began in June, Centre County prosecutors and defense attorneys sniped and bickered — causing the judge to threaten to throw out both sides from the courtroom.