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Family leaves courtroom as video played of Penn State frat pledge before his death

Key video in Penn State frat death

BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- A detective testifying at a hearing for 18 Penn State fraternity brothers accused in the death of a 19-year-old pledge said Monday the student looked like a corpse in surveillance video from the frat house.

"He looked dead, he looked like a corpse," said State College Police Detective David Scicchitano, describing sophomore Tim Piazza's appearance in footage showing frat brothers carrying him upstairs the morning after a pledge event that involved heavy drinking.

Scicchitano spoke at preliminary hearing at a courthouse near campus that will determine if there's enough evidence to send the case to trial.

Piazza's father, Jim, rocked back and forth quietly in the front row of the courtroom as he heard his son's final hours described. When the video started – being shown for the first time publicly – he and his wife Evelyn left the courtroom.

The video was shot by security cameras inside the Beta Theta Pi house the night the pledge drank heavily as part of a hazing event and then was fatally injured in a series of falls.

18 Penn State frat members charged in student death

"The videotape is horrible, and it is gruesome," Piazza family attorney Tom Kline told "CBS This Morning" before the hearing. "No parent wants to see what is apparently on this videotape."

Piazza consumed what prosecutors said was a life-threatening amount of alcohol during a hazing ritual on Feb. 2 at the frat house in State College, Pennsylvania, and he died two days later.

According to the grand jury presentment, around 9 p.m., the videos show Piazza and other pledges in a ritual called "the gauntlet," consuming large amounts of beer, vodka and wine in a matter of minutes.

Shortly after, Piazza apparently fell head-first down the basement stairs.  When he reappears on camera, carried by fraternity brothers, his body is limp and his abdomen clearly bruised.

Scicchitano said the footage shows Piazza was clearly injured after his first serious fall, at 11:22 p.m.

"He is unconscious, his eyes are closed, he is limp. He is dead weight," he said.

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The Beta Theta Pi fraternity and 18 members face criminal charges following the death of a 19-year-old pledge. CBS News

By about 3 a.m., the detective said, Piazza was left alone on the couch. He later falls several times in the house's great hall and other areas.

He can be seen hitting his head and stomach, rolling around on the floor and then staggering to the lobby area and toward the basement stairs, Scicchitano said.

He's not seen on tape again until two hours later, when brothers looking for him find him in the basement.

Piazza was carried upstairs and had labored breathing, he said.

By that time, he had "lost all color," and some of the fraternity members thought he may have died, Scicchitano said. Fraternity brothers waited another 42 minutes to call 911, prosecutors say.

Piazza, of Lebanon, New Jersey,  died one day later. A pathologist said he had severe head trauma and a ruptured spleen. His blood-alcohol measured at a dangerous level.

The defendants face a variety of charges, with some accused of involuntary manslaughter and felony aggravated assault. The fraternity chapter is also a defendant.

Attorney Rocco Cipparone, Jr., who represents defendant Michael Bonatucci – who faces eight charges in Piazza's death – told "CBS This Morning," "I know the Bonatucci family and Michael in particular, certainly feel empathy and sympathy for the Piazza family. But sadly, just because someone passes away doesn't mean that everybody in the room is responsible."

Penn State has permanently banned the fraternity, saying the school found "a persistent pattern" of excess drinking, drug use and hazing.

On Monday a spokesperson for the fraternity told "CBS This Morning": "As these hearings begin, Beta Theta Pi International Fraternity has confidence in the judicial system that due process and justice can and will be served. We will continue to cooperate with authorities in all manners to make sure of it."