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AG seeks jail time for first Penn State defendant to be sentenced in Tim Piazza hazing case

Ryan Burke is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday for his role in the fraternity hazing death of Penn State student Tim Piazza.

Tim Piazza died after falling down a flight of stairs during pledge night. More than 20 students were charged in his death. The first is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday.
Tim Piazza died after falling down a flight of stairs during pledge night. More than 20 students were charged in his death. The first is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday.Read moreEvelyn Piazza

Sentencing for the first defendant in the fraternity hazing death of Pennsylvania State University student Tim Piazza is scheduled for Tuesday, and the Attorney General's Office is asking for up to three months of jail time.

Ryan Burke, 21, who pleaded guilty in May to misdemeanor counts of hazing and unlawful acts relative to liquor and one count of consumption of alcohol by a minor, is scheduled to appear before Judge Brian K. Marshall in Centre County Court at 9 a.m.

Standard sentencing guidelines for such a misdemeanor conviction normally would not include jail time, especially in the case of a first-time offender, such as Burke. But, in a memo to the judge, prosecutors argued that the circumstances were "aggravated" and require a stiffer penalty.

"The fact that the act of hazing … was a direct link to Mr. Piazza's death is an aggravating factor that warrants sentencing in the aggravated range of 90 days incarceration," the Attorney General's Office said in court papers filed last week.

Burke, of Scranton, also could face fines, loss of his driver's license for 90 days, community service, and probation.

Lawyer Philip Masorti, who has represented Burke, could not be reached for comment.

Piazza, a sophomore engineering major from New Jersey, died in February 2017 after a booze-fueled hazing ritual including a drinking gauntlet at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. He fell down a flight of stairs and was left to languish for nearly 12 hours before anyone called for help.

The case became high profile after former Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller charged eight fraternity members with aggravated assault and involuntary manslaughter and 10 others with hazing and/or other offenses. Centre County Judge Allen Sinclair threw out the aggravated assault and involuntary manslaughter charges, but 14 members were bound over for trial on other offenses.

In November, Parks Miller refiled some charges and charged more fraternity members, including Burke, in connection with Piazza's death. The Attorney General's Office, which inherited the case after a new district attorney took over in Centre County earlier this year and said he had a conflict, decided not to pursue aggravated assault, a felony, against any of the fraternity members, including Burke. The office also withdrew simple assault and involuntary manslaughter charges against Burke.

But, in the court papers filed in Burke's case, the office notes that the judge should take into consideration that Piazza was repeatedly handed drinks by fraternity members, including Burke, and ultimately died.

"This is a case where the defendant's actions are captured on video," the office said."He is highly identifiable and the circumstances are undeniable."

The office also cited two other hazing deaths in the last decade that have resulted in jail time.

Piazza's father, Jim, in a statement filed with the court, said he was pleased that Burke "stepped up and pleaded guilty."

"However, I do question his remorse," Piazza wrote. "He had more than a year to come forward to cooperate with and help the prosecutors. He did not do anything until charges were carried over against him."

More than a dozen other fraternity members are awaiting trial on charges including hazing and liquor offenses.