Kistler defends ruling on Beta Theta Pi video

Centre County President Judge Thomas King Kistler says he is right and the District Attorney’s Office is wrong about the video evidence of the party where Timothy Piazza sustained fatal injuries.

In an opinion filed Monday, Kistler defended his ruling on preservation and duplication of the video.

Piazza died in February after falling at a Beta Theta Pi pledge party. Help was not called for about 12 hours. The Alpha Upsilon chapter of Beta Theta Pi and 18 of its members were charged in the case after DA Stacy Parks Miller presented video evidence to an investigating grand jury.

The video has been a bone of contention for Alpha Upsilon since March, when the fraternity went to court to recover both the video players and the footage itself, which State College police took as evidence after the incident. Alpha Upsilon later asked for Parks Miller to be held in contempt for not returning it, saying she was in violation of court orders. They also alleged that some video returned to them had been modified after it was seized.

In June, Kistler directed both the State College police and the chapter to find experts to consult on the best ways to safeguard the video and to make 20 copies. While the order does not specifically mention it, 20 copies would provide for each of the 19 defendants in the criminal case who might want access, as well as the prosecution.

The DA’s office protested this by appealing to the state Superior Court, saying the judge overstepped.

But Kistler pointed out in his latest opinion that Parks Miller’s office isn’t even part of the suit in question, referring to the “confusion and misunderstanding of the nature of this action.”

The statement of matters complained of on appeal was written by assistant DA Michael Osterberg, who cited various violations of Pennsylvania criminal procedure. That’s the problem, Kistler wrote, saying that because the suit in question is civil, criminal rules don’t apply.

“This order was not given within the bounds of a criminal case and was not directed at (the DA’s office) as (the DA’s office) was at no point a party to this litigation,” he wrote, taking issue with the prosecution’s bristling at being ordered to hire an expert, saying it was “not directed by this court to take or refrain from any action in this matter.”

Kistler asked the Superior Court to let his order stand.

The defendants in the Beta Theta Pi case will be back in the Centre County Courthouse on Aug. 10-11 for two more days of preliminary hearings in the ongoing criminal case.

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