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Charges dismissed in fraternity member's death case

In Pennsylvania, college student crimes, such as fraternity hazing and underage drinking at Penn State and other universities, have received recently publicity. The recent dismissal of charges against an Indiana University of Pennsylvania student charged for the death of a fraternity brother underscores the importance of students asserting criminal defense rights.

The defendant and the deceased student, both 20-years-old, were members of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity at IUP when that student died on February 3rd. The defendant was charged days later with homicide and aggravated assault after prosecutors claimed that he was seen choking the victim during a fight in Indiana Borough.

The pathologist who conducted the autopsy and the County Coroner's Office, however, said that there were no visible signs that the student was strangled such, which would have been evidence by muscle bruising or redness in his neck. The defendant's attorney argued that the two students were walking together when the student collapsed. The defendant was greatly upset about his friend's death and that he was being held responsible for it, according to his attorney.

An Indiana County Judge dismissed the charges earlier this month because there was insufficient evidence that the defendant caused another person's death. He ruled that there was no physical or eyewitness evidence indicating that the defendant killed or even intended to kill the other student that evening. He cited the pathologist's finding that there were no physical signs of a strangling. Also, the eyewitness said that the whole alleged incident took place over five to six seconds. The witness presented insufficient testimony that the defendant choked the deceased and was unaware how he landed on the ground, according to the judge's findings.

The district attorney's office is reviewing the ruling and will decide whether it should be appealed to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. The defendant has remained out of jail since earlier this year on $50,000 straight bond because first-degree murder charges were not filed against him.

Students who are accused of a crime or a serious violation of university rules should seek an attorney to help assure that their rights are protected. An experienced lawyer can oftentimes challenge evidence in court leading to favorable results.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Homicide, assault charges dismissed against IUP student in fraternity brother's death," David Hurst, Nov. 17, 2017

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