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Niskayuna native charged with tampering in Pa. student's death

Niskayuna native charged with tampering in Pa. student's death

He won scholarship from Schenectady Foundation in 2014
Niskayuna native charged with tampering in Pa. student's death
Braxton Becker.
Photographer: State College Police

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- A Niskayuna native and 2014 Niskayuna High School graduate is facing evidence tampering charges related to a fraternity pledge's death at Penn State University.

Braxton Becker, 20, was among eight members of Beta Theta Pi to be arraigned Tuesday on charges in the wake of Timothy Piazza's death in February, according to the Centre Daily Times, of State College.

Becker faces one count of tampering with evidence, accused of directing people "to destroy social media/forensic phone evidence," according to court documents released by Pennsylvania prosecutors.

At the podium is Stacy Parks Miller, Centre County district attorney, with the parents of Timothy Piazza, 19, of Readington Township, N.J., during a news conference May 5 at the Bellefonte courthouse. (David Swanson/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

The charge is a misdemeanor, punishable in Pennsylvania by up to two years in prison.

Piazza died after he fell at an alcohol-fueled party, about 12 hours before a fraternity member called 911 to report his injuries, according to the Daily Times and prosecution documents.

In all, the fraternity and 18 of its members face charges related to Piazza's death. Eight members face manslaughter counts.

Five of the 18 face only a single evidence tampering count, Becker among them. 

Other fraternity members face dozens of counts of hazing, endangering and providing alcohol to minors, along with the manslaughter counts.

A 65-page report on the death laid out a sequence of events that prosecutors believe preceded the incident and the subsequent effort to conceal what happened. The document identified Becker as the house manager and pointed to a message he allegedly sent to a fellow fraternity member days after Piazza's death. That message concerned a thread on the text messaging service GroupMe that concerned hosting a party with alcohol. The fraternity was supposed to be dry.

"You made the current GroupMe, right?" Becker allegedly wrote to the fellow member and the fraternity chapter's executive vice president on Feb. 9. "Guys are retarded posting some of that (expletive) in there. Would it be worth deleting it and starting fresh again?"

The executive vice president allegedly responded, "Yeah, I did. I'll delete it."

Becker was previously charged in mid-February, accused of selling large amounts of marijuana. The investigation into the marijuana sales began in November, nearly three months before Piazza's death, the Daily Times wrote.

Authorities said they found suspected marijuana in Becker's room, along with drug paraphernalia and more than $1,600 in cash. The cash included bills used by an informant earlier on the day of the mid-February search, according to the newspaper's account.

In that case, Becker faces multiple felony charges, as well as misdemeanors, the paper wrote.

The paper identified Becker as an undergraduate majoring in material science and engineering.

Before heading to Penn State, Becker won a $5,000 leadership scholarship from the Schenectady Foundation. That award was announced in August 2014.

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