May 16, 2017 at 12:53 PM
Four fraternity brothers have pleaded guilty to lesser charges in the 2013 hazing death of Chun "Michael" Deng, an 18-year-old Baruch College student who died after suffering major brain trauma during a group ritual at a Poconos retreat.
The Monroe County (Pa.) district attorney's office said late Monday that Kenny Kwan, Charles Lai, Raymond Lam and Sheldon Wong pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter as accomplices and hindering apprehension for concealing evidence. Authorities said Deng, who was pledging Pi Delta Psi, was knocked unconscious during the ritual in December 2013 and died.
"It's a long time coming," Monroe County Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Metzger told NBC affiliate WBRE. "We've had this case now for almost three full years."
The fraternity brothers were taking part in an outdoor ritual they called the "glass ceiling," during which Deng was blindfolded while others tackled him, causing blunt-force trauma to his head and chest, according to a statement from the district attorney's office.
"The object of the ritual is to get through a line of brothers while fraternity members shove and take the pledges down and resist the pledge from getting through the line," the Pocono Mountain Regional Police said in a statement in 2015. Police said that during the "brutal" game, Deng was beaten and "speared" during one tackle, and was eventually knocked to the ground, hitting his head and losing consciousness.
The prosecutor said in court that Kwan was the last member to tackle Deng. "Mr. Deng did not stand up after that moment," she said, according to the Associated Press. Police said that after Deng passed out, members called the national fraternity president, who told them to hide all of the fraternity items.
Deng was carried inside, where members changed his clothes and researched his symptoms on the Internet to try to determine his condition, police said. After more than an hour, Deng was still unconscious, police said. Fraternity members then took him to a nearby hospital.
The prosecutor's office said that "once police were contacted after an unresponsive Deng was brought to the hospital with significant injuries, brothers lied to police and concealed their knowledge of the function and the fraternity link."
Deng was put on life support, police said, and died of his injuries the next day.
Autopsy results showed that Deng suffered numerous blows to the body and blunt-force trauma to the head. There were "at least three clear impacts to the head" and a "massive bruise to the back" that caused "traumatic asphyxia," police said in 2015. "The delay in treatment of 1-2 hours significantly contributed to the death of Mr. Deng," police added.
After months of investigation, a grand jury in Pennsylvania recommended charges against more than 30 people in connection with Deng's death in 2015. Four of them — Kwan, Lai, Lam and Wong, who now range in age from 24 to 28 — were charged with third-degree murder but have pleaded guilty to the lesser charges. Their sentencing is set for Dec. 4.
Todd Greenberg, who represents Lam, said the four men did not "realize the consequences of their actions" but have since owned up to the tragic mistake.
Roger Marion, an attorney for Kwan, said his client is "deeply saddened for everything that has happened and he has taken responsibility for his role in it."
Wong's attorney said Wong did not make physical contact with the fraternity pledges but that he had planned the event where Deng was fatally wounded. "He remains sad and remorseful for Mr. Deng's death," his attorney, Steven Brill, said, adding that the pair were schoolmates and friends. "But he would like everyone to know that this turn of events was the last thing he ever intended to occur."
An attorney for Lai could not immediately be reached for comment.
More than 30 other fraternity members, as well as the fraternity itself, are still awaiting trial.
"The family has waited a long time for this important development; nevertheless, nothing that happens will ever bring Michael back," Doug Fierberg, an attorney for the Deng family, said Tuesday morning. "They will continue to pursue justice until each and every one of these young men and the fraternity are held responsible for this tragedy."
The family said in a statement that "Michael was a devoted, bright and loving son, and nothing can undo or lessen the crushing heartbreak of losing our only child to fraternity hazing."
"Michael's death was absolutely preventable, and our family will, now and forever, do everything in our power to hold these men and their fraternity responsible," the family said. "We hope our work will contribute to ending hazing and save another family from suffering."
This story has been updated.