Guilty plea entered in hazing death of Penn State fraternity pledge

Guilty plea entered in hazing death of Penn State fraternity pledge
Ryan Burke leaves court on on June 13, 2018.

A guilty plea related to the 2017 hazing death of Penn State University fraternity pledge Timothy Piazza was entered Wednesday by one of the 26 defendants, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

Ryan Burke, 21, pleaded guilty in Centre County Court to four counts of hazing and five counts related to unlawful acts involving liquor, according to Shapiro’s office. Burke admitted to being present for and actively encouraging a series of drinking games with Piazza and other fraternity pledges, prosecutors said.

After the games, Burke walked around with a bottle of vodka and made underage fraternity pledges, including Piazza, drink from it, prosecutors said.

“Tim Piazza’s death was a terrible tragedy,” Shapiro said in a news release. “Today marks the first guilty plea by a defendant in this case.”

Burke’s attorney Philip Masorti said they didn’t ask for a plea agreement and prosecutors didn’t offer one, according to CNN’s sister station, HLN.

“We came to court, we acknowledged responsibility and he’s prepared to be sentenced,” Masorti said outside the courthouse.

Piazza, a 19-year-old sophomore, died on February 4, 2017, after drinking large quantities of alcohol in his first night of pledging at Beta Theta Pi fraternity. The fraternity was supposed to be alcohol-free.

Piazza suffered a traumatic brain injury from several falls, including a tumble down a set of basement stairs, according to a grand jury investigation.

Surveillance video showed Piazza was given at least 18 drinks in 82 minutes by members of the fraternity. Piazza’s blood-alcohol level went “from a zero to as high as a .36,” a grand jury report said, almost five times the legal limit.

In November 2017, Burke was first charged in the hazing death case along with several other defendants from the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house. The case involves 26 defendants, according to prosecutors.

In a statement, Tom Kline, an attorney for the Piazza family, said: “The parents of Tim Piazza are pleased to see the first Beta brother accept responsibility for his action, and encourage others who also contributed to Tim’s death to follow in his footsteps.”

Burke’s sentencing is scheduled for July 31.