Sept. 1 (UPI) -- A judge on Friday threw out the most serious charges against a group of fraternity brothers at Pennsylvania State University, who stand accused of contributing to a pledge's death after a night of heavy drinking.
Centre County District Court Justice Allen Sinclair ordered felony charges dropped against eight of the 14 fraternity members still charged in the case, following a week-long pretrial hearing. In all, 14 of the frat members still face trial for lesser charges.
The dismissed charges were for manslaughter and aggravated assault. Four members were completely absolved in the case by Sinclair on Friday.
The case centers around the Feb. 4 death of sophomore fraternity pledge Timothy Piazza, 19, of Lebanon, N.J.
Piazza's parents were in court Friday for the judge's ruling. They declined to address the media afterward, but Parks Miller said they were "shocked" by the decision.
Seeking membership in the now-shuttered Beta Theta Pi fraternity, Piazza and others were subjected to an alcoholic "gantlet" that included being forced to drink beer, wine and a large bottle of vodka as quickly as possible, according to prosecutors. The pledges had already been drinking at a sorority mixer earlier in the evening.
Prosecutors say security video from the fraternity house showed Piazza visibly intoxicated. At one point he fell down a flight of stairs and frat members are seen carrying him back to the first floor -- leaving him passed out on a couch. Later in the evening, they say footage showed him falling face-first into a door and onto a stone floor.
Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller argued that members supplied Piazza with liquor, then ignored signals that he needed medical attention for more than 12 hours before they called 911.
Doctors said Piazza died of head and internal injuries, and that he'd ingested a life-threatening amount of alcohol.
Defense attorneys for the defendants said the drinking was ill-advised, but contended that no individual actions were to blame for Piazza's death.
"Yes, there's excessive drinking on college campuses," attorney Theodore Simon said Thursday. "That does not transform it into criminal behavior."
Another defense attorney, Michael Engel, argued Piazza's death was "not foreseeable" and criminal charges relating to his death should be dropped.