Penn State frat member learns sentence in pledge death case

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1st sentencing in Penn State hazing case. Tamala Edwards reports during Action News Mornings on July 31, 2018.

The first member of a Penn State University fraternity to plead guilty in connection with the death of a pledge after a night of drinking and hazing last year will be sentenced on Tuesday.

Ryan Burke will learn his punishment after pleading guilty to four counts of hazing and five alcohol violations.

The 21-year-old Scranton resident is among more than 20 members of the now-closed Beta Theta Pi fraternity to face criminal charges over the February 2017 death of Tim Piazza.

Piazza, a sophomore engineering student from Lebanon, New Jersey, died after consuming a dangerous amount of alcohol and suffering a series of falls that left him with a fractured skull and severe abdominal injuries.

Other defendants face trial in February.

Court documents say Burke was an active participant in the bid acceptance night events at the fraternity, including providing alcohol to Piazza and others who had just signed up as pledges.

Burke was the rush chairman and in charge of recruiting new members. A prosecution sentencing memo filed last week said Burke lined up the pledges single-file and marched them into the basement, "where the alcohol-fueled hazing would ensue."

The memo says Burke walked around the basement with a bottle of vodka for the pledges in one hand, supplying Piazza and three others with vodka over a 10-minute period. The hazing counts and four of the five alcohol violations relate to those events. Burke also pleaded guilty to underage drinking.

After Piazza fell down the basement stairs and had to be carried to a first-floor sofa, Burke "appeared unconcerned," prosecutors wrote.

"He is seen playfully hoisting a girl over his shoulders, jumping on the sofa next to Piazza, and then rolling over and on top of Piazza as he is getting up before leaving the room. He leaves Piazza to be dealt with by others," according to the sentencing memo.

When Burke was first charged in November, he also was accused of involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, simple assault and reckless endangerment, but the attorney general's office dropped the most serious charges in April and then a district judge dismissed some other counts.
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