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Victim's parents still optimistic after charges reduced against Penn State frat brothers

Penn State hazing death
Victim's parents react to judge dismissing most serious charges in Penn State hazing death 02:23

BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- Former members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at Penn State University left the courthouse in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, absorbing the stunning news that the most serious charges had been dismissed.

Fourteen of them still face misdemeanors, including alcohol and hazing charges, reports CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod.

"I just feel relieved," said former Beta Theta Pi brother Joe Ems, who had his reckless endangerment charge dropped altogether.

Joe Ems CBS News

"People need to understand that this was a terrible, terrible tragedy, and that's what it was simply. There was no intent, malice, any criminal activity on my part or, I believe, on any of my friends' part," Ems said.

It was last February 2nd when 19-year-old Penn State sophomore Timothy Piazza was at the Beta Theta Pi house for a pledge event. Prosecutors argue Piazza was forced to drink massive amounts of alcohol.

Surveillance video reportedly shows Piazza repeatedly falling, passing out and tumbling head-first down a flight of stairs. No one called 911 for hours.

"The headlines are going to be: 'most serious charges dropped,'" Axelrod said to Tom Klein, the Piazza family's lawyer.

"The headline is wrong if that's the headline," Klein responded.

Piazza's parents say the important thing is that Beta Theta Pi brothers will stand trial.

"I'm looking forward to seeing the trial and whatever else comes out of the investigation really," said Jim Piazza.

"And ten are facing hazing charges," Evelyn Piazza added.

From left: Tom Klein, Jim Piazza, Evelyn Piazza CBS News

"And that's important to you?" Axelrod asked.

"Absolutely," Jim said. "Because we need to put a stop to it."

"It has no place in Greek life, sports, marching bands, it just has no place. It's torture. It's abuse," Evelyn said.

The judge ruled the state didn't provide sufficient evidence the defendants knew their actions would almost certainly create tragic consequences.

"There's no winners here. We're not high-fiving today," said defense lawyer Bill Brennan. "There's a young man who's dead and a young life that's been changed and we're very very pleased the case is over in our favor, but nobody is high-fiving themselves here."

The most serious of the charges dismissed Friday carry a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. The ones that remain carry a max of two years. The prosecutor says she will refile the assault and manslaughter charges in front of a new judge.

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