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Judge imposes first jail terms in Penn State fraternity hazing death

The former Beta Theta Pi members were sentenced in the death of Tim Piazza, 19, of New Jersey. A Ronkonkoma man, Daniel Casey, still faces charges in the case.

Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller announces

Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller announces on May 5, 2017, the findings of an investigation into the death of Penn State University fraternity pledge Tim Piazza as his parents, Jim and Evelyn Piazza, second and third from left, stand nearby during a news conference in Bellefonte, Pa.   Credit: AP/Abby Drey

A judge has sentenced three former Penn State fraternity members to jail in the 2017 death of a pledge, the first defendants ordered to serve time behind bars in a case that rewrote Pennsylvania's anti-hazing law and also involves a Long Island student.

Centre County Judge Brian Marshall sentenced former Beta Theta Pi members Tuesday for hazing surrounding the death of sophomore engineering major Tim Piazza, 19, of Lebanon, New Jersey.

The sentences were 30 days to six months for Michael Bonatucci, 21; two months to six months for Luke Visser, 21; and three months to nine months for Joshua Kurczewski, 20. A fourth defendant, Joseph Sala, 21, received three months to 10 months of house arrest.

Each was also fined and given a probation term. They were all sentenced for hazing and conspiracy to commit hazing, and Kurczewski also pleaded guilty to furnishing alcohol to minors.

Two former Beta Theta Pi members, vice president and pledge master Daniel Casey of Ronkonkoma and president Brendan Young, face charges that include reckless endangerment, hazing and alcohol violations. Their case is on hold while state prosecutors appeal an order that evidence from their cellphones can't be used.

Another member, Braxton Becker, is accused of evidence tampering related to the security camera footage, and his case is in the preliminary stages. Two others are scheduled to be sentenced April 15.

Kurczewski's defense attorney, Jeffrey Veitch, said the three sentenced to jail Wednesday can apply to do their time on home monitoring, but it will be up to the judge to determine if they are eligible. Lawyers for the others did not immediately return messages seeking comment Wednesday.

Piazza drank heavily the night of a pledge bid acceptance ceremony and was fatally injured in a series of falls, his agonizing night captured on the house's elaborate video security system. The four men sentenced on Tuesday were generally involved in providing alcohol to pledges and pressuring them to drink, prosecutors said.

"Piazza's 'brothers,' including defendant Visser, repeatedly encouraged and caused more and more alcohol consumption until his judgment and physical control of his body became severely impaired," prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo. "This directly resulted in his slow and painful death."

Prosecutors said Visser and Kurczewski set up a beer pong station as part of a series of drinking events known as the "gauntlet." Sala led pledges into the drinking course's start, prosecutors wrote, and Bonatucci handed out beer.

An autopsy estimated that Piazza had consumed several times the legal limit for alcohol the night of the pledge event. He also suffered severe head and abdominal injuries. He ended up in the basement the next morning, but it took members 40 minutes after finding Piazza injured and unconscious before they summoned help.

Twenty-eight members of the now-shuttered fraternity have faced charges, although the most serious allegations of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault were dismissed or withdrawn. Most pleaded guilty to hazing- and alcohol-related counts and received probation and community service, or were enrolled in an alternative sentencing program designed for first-time, nonviolent offenders.

The state's new anti-hazing law, named for Piazza, took effect in November.


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