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What you need to know for 11/20/2017

Charge dropped against Nisky grad in Penn State case

Charge dropped against Nisky grad in Penn State case

Other fraternity members still face charges related to alleged hazing death
Charge dropped against Nisky grad in Penn State case
Braxton Becker
Photographer: State College Police

NISKAYUNA  — The lone charge filed against a 2014 Niskayuna High School graduate related to a fraternity pledge's death at Penn State University has been dismissed, according to a Pennsylvania court docket and media accounts.

Braxton Becker, 20, was among the members of Beta Theta Pi to be arrested in May in the wake of Timothy Piazza's February death at the school, according to the Centre Daily Times, of State College, Pennsylvania. 

Becker faced 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.

The charge was a misdemeanor, punishable in Pennsylvania by up to two years in prison. Friday's ruling, however, dismissed that count, and an online Pennsylvania court summary listed Becker's case as now dismissed.

Details on the ruling itself and the reasons for it were not immediately available.

A message left Friday afternoon with the attorney representing Becker in Pennsylvania was also not immediately returned.

The ruling focused on eight fraternity members who had been charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with Piazza's death. The also judge tossed the most serious counts filed in the case, according to CNN.

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 court documents.

In all, the fraternity and 18 of its members faced charges. Five of the 18 faced only a single evidence-tampering count, Becker among them.

Other fraternity members faced dozens of counts of hazing, endangering and providing alcohol to minors, along with the manslaughter counts. Some of the charges are pending.

A 65-page report on Piazza's death issued earlier this year laid out a sequence of events that prosecutors believe preceded the incident and the subsequent efforts 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 with 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. The status of the earlier marijuana case could not be determined Friday.

Authorities said they found 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 Centre Times wrote.

The newspaper 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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