Crimes and Court

BELLEFONTE -- New developments and discoveries were made in the sixth day of Beta Theta Pi preliminary hearings.

And it seemed to please lawyers on both sides of the case. 

One of Wednesday's major developments was the testimony from Penn State athletic trainer and Beta Theta Pi live-in adviser Tim Bream, who is not currently being charged in the case.

Leonard Ambrose, the attorney representing former Beta Theta Pi brother Joseph Sala, was the one who originally decided Bream should come in to testify. After the hearing Wednesday, Ambrose said the inclusion of Bream in today’s testimony was “significant,” especially since it dispelled the Commonwealth’s argument that Beta Theta Pi was a “dry” fraternity house.


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“Mr. Bream, through his own counsel, indicated that the fraternity was hosting a social that night…at which they were permitted by the [Interfraternity Council] to serve alcohol at this social event.”

Ambrose said Bream was “supposedly” supposed to supervise those were going to be consuming alcohol at the event, but instead “went to his room and slept all night.” 

“His title was ‘residential adviser,’” Ambrose said. “Under his position he just lives there. Anything can go on and he doesn’t have to have any say as to what goes on…it doesn’t make any sense.”

When asked about the argument that the former Beta Theta Pi brothers “knew that people would get sick,” Rocco Cipparone, the lawyer representing Michael Bonatucci, said getting sick and sustaining fatal injuries are “two dramatically different things,” adding that there was no “certain risk of death.” 

“Let me just say this,” Ambrose added, “they’re saying that my client, Joseph Sala, an 18-year-old, should be able to appreciate the risk of alcohol…how about a 56-year-old man who’s in the house…who simply goes to sleep? You can’t have it both ways.” 

During his testimony, Bream mentioned that he never drank alcohol because his father was an alcoholic. Ambrose said, because of this, he would think that Bream would be “very concerned about having alcohol in a house where he lives.”

“If [Bream] can’t foresee it with his life’s experience, with his position as resident adviser…how is credible that our clients were able to perceive someone, including Timothy Piazza, would die?” Cipparone asked.

Bream also mentioned that he didn’t see alcohol-related debris — or the unconscious Timothy Piazza — when he went downstairs on the morning of Feb. 3. Ambrose expressed skepticism to this testimony.

Tom Kline, the attorney representing the Piazza family, referenced Tim Bream as well, saying it is often easy to lose focus in these types of hearings.

“We are convinced that Mr. Bream was a significant and important person in this entire matter,” Kline said. “But we also see what’s happening here with the intent…there’s an effort to point the direction to what we call ‘the empty chair.’”

Previously, in a letter to Penn State, the Piazzas did call for the firing of Bream, and Kline said they were concerned about his role and responsibility, as well as his position as a representative of the university.

Kline said him, along with Jim and Evelyn Piazza, are focusing on what Bream knew and when he knew it, but added that none of those questions exonerates any of the individuals charged in the case.

“That’s something that cannot be understated,” Kline said.

Kline said Bream could be fully cross-examined at a later point, but added that the Bream issue doesn’t solve any of the other questions are charges against other parties.

“It’s needs to be addressed. It will be addressed…and we hopefully, someday, will get answers,” Kline said.

Another development, Kline said, were admissions by defense attorneys that some crimes were committed by former members of Beta Theta Pi.

“If I were writing a headline, my headline would be ‘there were crimes committed,’” Kline said. “Let’s agree that there was hazing. That’s part of the Piazza’s mission…their son is dead. Let’s focus on that again: The Piazza’s son is dead. And they’re looking for justice.”

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