BELLEFONTE, Pa. — A former Penn State University fraternity brother entered the first guilty plea Wednesday in the death of a 19-year-old pledge fatally injured in February 2017 after a night of heavy drinking and hazing.
Ryan Burke, 21, of Scranton pleaded guilty to all nine remaining charges he faced, including four misdemeanors alleging hazing against Tim Piazza of Readington Township, N.J. Other charges previously were dismissed or withdrawn.
“There are too few words to describe a loss so great. This young man understands that,” Burke’s lawyer, Philip Masorti, said outside the courthouse, putting his hand on Burke’s shoulder. “This is a tragedy, and he is anxious to make amends.”
In addition to the four counts of hazing, Burke also pleaded guilty to four counts of unlawful acts relative to liquor, malt and brewed beverages and licenses; and one count of purchase, consumption, possession or transportation of liquor and malt or brewed beverages. Pennsylvania — and New Jersey — has a legal drinking age of 21, as do most states; federal law bans buying alcoholic beverages until a person's 21st birthday.
► May 1: Pennsylvania attorney general wants manslaughter charges in Piazza case
► March 28: Judge again tosses most serious charges in Penn State fraternity death
► March 15: Felony assault charges dropped in Penn State hazing death
Originally, Burke was facing charges of involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, simple assault and reckless endangering another person.
He was accused of giving Piazza a bottle of vodka at the party. He will be sentenced July 31.
“We are pleased to see one individual accept responsibility and encourage others to follow in his steps,” said Tom Kline, lawyer for Piazza’s parents, Jim and Evelyn Piazza.
Twenty-five other defendants face charges in the death of Tim Piazza, who was an engineering student at Penn State. The freshman pledge drank a dangerous amount of alcohol and suffered fatal injuries in a series of falls during a party last year.
Fraternity members did little or nothing to help him, prosecutors said.
A video camera allegedly captured the final hours of Piazza's life inside the Penn State fraternity house. Stacy Parks Miller, former Centre County district attorney, described what she saw happen.
The video allegedly captured copious amounts of beer and liquor drinking. "Beer gauntlets" initially were set up on the first floor and then down in the basement.
As the pledges returned to the first floor, they appeared to show signs of intoxication, and Piazza had to be helped to a couch, according to the grand jury and witness testimony during the lengthy preliminary hearing.
Piazza subsequently stumbled toward the basement steps then fell down them.
During the remainder of that evening, fraternity members allegedly were recorded pouring liquid on him, strapping a loaded backpack to him and taking other ineffective or counterproductive steps to deal with his condition.
The video showed Piazza stumbling around in the dark at several points then disappearing from view.
After someone noticed his shoes were on the first floor the next morning, fraternity members found Piazza, unconscious, in the basement.
They carried him upstairs but took another 40 minutes before calling an ambulance.
Contributing: The Associated Press. Follow Nick Muscavage on Twitter: @nmuscavage