Stacy Parks Miller, the Centre County district attorney who brought charges against 18 fraternity members in the death of Pennsylvania State University student Tim Piazza, lost her bid for reelection in Tuesday’s primary.
What effect, if any, her loss in the Democratic primary will have on the case involving the Beta Theta Pi fraternity and its members is uncertain. The preliminary hearing for the accused, who face a range of charges from involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault to hazing, reckless endangerment, and furnishing alcohol to minors, is scheduled for June 12.
The winner of Tuesday's Democratic primary, Bernie Cantorna, 54, who garnered nearly 70 percent of the vote, has not discussed the case on the campaign trail, said his campaign manager, Dianne Gregg. “Bernie is very careful not to discuss ongoing cases,” she said.
Parks Miller, 48, still has the job through the end of the year. There were no Republicans on the primary ballot.
Tom Kline, the lawyer for Piazza’s parents, Jim and Evelyn, of Lebanon, N.J., said he expected that the case would stay on track.
“We trust that the prosecution will move forward expeditiously in the next seven months under Ms. Parks Miller and afterwards,” Kline said. “The Piazza family is depending on the successor district attorney to also seek a full measure of justice in the brutal death of their son.”
William J. Brennan, a defense attorney for one of the fraternity members, also said he didn’t expect the election outcome to have a significant impact.
“District attorneys are elected officials and as cases flow through the system, sometimes their political fortunes change,” said Brennan, who represents Joseph Ems Jr., 20, of Philadelphia, who was charged with a misdemeanor count of reckless endangerment.
He said he hopes that former Montgomery County District Attorney and Pennsylvania Attorney General Bruce L. Castor Jr. will continue to be involved in the case. Castor serves as s special assistant district attorney to Parks Miller’s office and has been helping with the fraternity case.
“I’ve worked with Mr. Castor on many cases and he’s a gentleman and true professional,” Brennan said.
Piazza, a sophomore engineering major, was forced to drink large amounts of alcohol at different stations in a frat house as part of a pledge activity known as “the Gauntlet” and later fell down a flight of stairs, according to a grand jury presentment. No one called for emergency help until about 12 hours later, and in the interim, Piazza fell several other times, was slapped, had liquid poured on him, and was left to languish on a couch where fraternity members had placed him, the report said. Piazza died Feb. 4, having suffered a non-recoverable brain injury, ruptured spleen, and collapsed lung.
Parks Miller announced the charges at a news conference in Bellefonte on May 5.
She did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Parks Miller has been embroiled in a bitter power struggle in Centre County for years. She has clashed with county commissioners, a former employee, and defense attorneys, and found herself under investigation. State prosecutors announced in August 2015 that a grand jury probe did not find evidence to charge Parks Miller with forgery or other offenses. The inquiry was prompted by a former paralegal in Parks Miller's office who filed an affidavit saying she witnessed the district attorney signing a judge's name on a warrant.
Parks Miller sued county commissioners, county staff, and several attorneys, charging defamation in connection with the allegations.
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