The surveillance cameras at Pennsylvania State University's Beta Theta Pi fraternity house were so state-of-the-art that they showed pledge Timothy Piazza's color change by the morning after he fell down the stairs during a pledge ceremony at the house, a prosecutor told ABC News.
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Piazza, a 19-year-old sophomore and pledge at Penn State's Beta Theta Pi fraternity, died on Feb. 4, following the fall on the night of Feb. 2. Fraternity members did not call 911 until the morning of Feb. 3, about 12 hours after Piazza's fall, according to a report on the grand jury's investigation.
The Beta Theta Pi house had eight or nine cameras, one for nearly every room in the house, in full color and full broadcast quality, Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said, capturing much of what happened to Piazza in the roughly 12 hours after his fall. Parks Miller said Piazza’s skin had turned gray by morning, which was especially noticeable in the final 40 minutes before the 911 call -- the time period prosecutors call the "cover-up" -- during which the students allegedly wanted to make Piazza appear healthier than he was by trying to dress him in clean clothes.
Piazza's death "was the direct result of traumatic brain injuries," according to the forensic pathologist, and 18 Penn State students are facing charges: eight for involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and hazing, among other charges; four for reckless endangerment and hazing, among other charges; and six for evidence tampering. The Beta Theta Pi fraternity -- which has since been barred from Penn State -- is facing charges including involuntary manslaughter and hazing.
Parks Miller told ABC News the 19-year-old's death was "completely preventable" and caused by recklessness.
"This was bound to happen," she said, after a toxic amount of alcohol is handed out to pledges semester after semester.
Parks Miller hopes these charges send the message that "if you're going to engage in risky, reckless behavior and that behavior causes the death of someone, you're going to be held responsible."
To the Piazza family, she said, "We will not stop until justice is done for them and for Tim.”
“They took home one son from Penn State and they should have been driving two home."
Here are some details from what happened the night of Feb. 2 and early morning hours of Feb. 3 at Beta Theta Pi, according to the grand jury report, which cited evidence including surveillance video, testimony and phone records.
Piazza was carried upstairs after the fall, appearing unconscious. During the night Piazza was slapped in the face, slammed onto a couch and hit in the abdomen by fraternity members. After 3 a.m., Piazza tried to stand but he fell, hitting his head on the floor. A fraternity brother attempted to shake him but then left the room. Shortly before 4 a.m., Piazza again tried to stand but fell face down on the floor.
At about 5 a.m., Piazza stood and then fell head first into an iron railing, landing on a stone floor. "He gets up again and attempts to go to the front door, but before he reaches it he falls head first into the door," the grand jury report says.
In the early morning hours, brothers saw Piazza in distress but didn't help. At about 10 a.m., fraternity members found the 19-year-old in the basement lying on his back, breathing heavily and with blood on his face. One brother said Piazza's eyes were half open and he felt cold. Three men carried Piazza's unconscious body upstairs and placed him back on the couch. Surveillance footage showed brothers shaking him and trying to prop him up. At 10:48 a.m., a fraternity member called 911. Piazza was hospitalized and died the next day.
The grand jury concluded that after Piazza was taken to the hospital there was an active attempt to conceal evidence of the hazing and underage drinking, from deleting messages to admitting to discussing erasing surveillance video.
According to the grand jury report, in a deleted text that was recovered, one man wrote, "If need be, just tell them what I told you guys, found him behind [a bar] the next morning at around 10 a.m., and he was freezing-cold, but we decided to call 911 instantly, because the kid's health was paramount."
All defendants charged with involuntary manslaughter were preliminarily arraigned Friday. They entered no pleas, bail was set at $100,000 and they were released on their own recognizance, the district attorney said. They are prohibited from having alcohol and nonprescription drugs, may not leave their home state without express permission from the judge and must surrender their passports, the district attorney said. The remaining defendants were arraigned Friday and today and did not enter pleas; they were arraigned with the same conditions but with bail set at $50,000, the district attorney's office said. Additionally, the individuals arraigned today were ordered to not have contact with any other witnesses or defendants, the district attorney's office said.
Defense attorney William Brennan, whose client is facing one count of reckless endangerment, told ABC News today, “I take this as seriously as if it were first-degree felony.”
“The facts of this case are troubling and tragic and we’ll do everything we can to defend this charge,” he said. “I empathize with the family of the deceased, I empathize with the family of those who are charged.”
“My client has -- and this is not to be misinterpreted as acceptance of responsibility or admitting culpability -- my client has tremendous human compassion and empathy for the family of the deceased, for the deceased himself. This was an unspeakable tragedy,” Brennan said. “Having said that, it is my position that there is no criminality on the part of my client.”
“It’s heartbreaking. If this case doesn’t draw emotion and tug on your heart strings or bring a tear to your eye, you’re inhuman,” he said. “I commend the DA office in the pragmatic way that they handled the charging process here because hundreds of people were at the frat house.”
“I would encourage people to remember that our system of jurisprudence provides a scenario where you’re innocent until you’re proven guilty,” he said. “My client, while presumed innocent and proclaiming innocence, has tremendous compassion for the deceased and his family.”
Penn State President Eric Barron in a statement Friday said, "The alleged details in the grand jury presentment, which suggest the inhumane treatment of a student forced through hazing to consume dangerous amounts of alcohol and endure hours of suffering, are sickening and difficult to understand."
"It should go without saying that hazing and dangerous drinking are not permitted by the University, and the University takes appropriate action to educate its students about these issues and to hold them accountable whenever it learns of such wrongdoing," Barron said.
Beta Theta Pi International Fraternity said in a statement that since Piazza's death "the International Fraternity has cooperated fully with local officials in their investigation. The early findings of that investigation indicated that the behavior of several undergraduate members was in direct contradiction of the International Fraternity’s expectations and risk management policies, as well as the International Fraternity’s reputation and commitment to character development."
"Beta Theta Pi International Fraternity has clearly and consistently expressed its position that it does not tolerate hazing or alcohol abuse in any form by its members. The former undergraduate members were well educated by the International Fraternity and Penn State on these policies; however, they are entitled to the presumption of innocence as they face these charges," the statement said. "The International Fraternity stands by its decision to suspend and disband the former chapter on February 17, 2017. The International Fraternity’s policy that prohibited alcohol in the Penn State chapter house, along with the extensive annual investment in risk management, leadership and character-development programs that teach young men the importance of integrity and caring for others, underscored the International Fraternity’s expectations of all of its members."
In a statement, the Penn State Interfraternity Council said its focus is "leading the change Penn State needs to prevent a senseless tragedy like this from happening in the future."
"We are committed to addressing the critical issues in our fraternity community head on," the statement said. "We have formed stakeholder working groups tasked with developing increased community standards and enhancing student safety. The best way to shift culture is for students, alumni and the university to work together."