MANHATTAN — A defendant in the 2013 hazing death of a Baruch student pleaded guilty in a Pennsylvania court on Tuesday to charges related to Deng’s death, the first of 37 co-defendants to do so, according to prosecutors.
Ka-Wing Yuen, 25, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a felony charge of conspiracy to hinder apprehension by evidence tampering and a misdemeanor charge of conspiracy to haze, after his frat brothers hazed pledge Chun Hsien “Michael” Deng to death at a fraternity retreat for the now-defunct Baruch chapter of Pi Delta Psi in the Poconos in December 2013, according to Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Metzger.
The guilty plea came a day after investigators presented evidence against Yuen in a bench trial, the first trial to begin for any of the 38 co-defendants (including the national organization of Pi Delta Psi, which is facing conspiracy charges), Metzger said.
“We have one down and 37 to go, counting the charges against the fraternity as a corporation,” she said.
Yuen was also charged with hindering apprehension by evidence tampering, hindering apprehension by lying to investigators, and conspiracy charges for the same offenses. By pleading guilty to the evidence-tampering conspiracy charge and the misdemeanor, prosecutors dropped the other three felony charges, Metzger said.
He faces a maximum of eight years in prison, and will be sentenced by a judge on Jan. 23.
According to prosecutors, who filed charges in September 2015, Deng’s would-be frat brothers panicked in the wake of the incident, and conspired with Andy Meng, the former national president of Pi Delta Psi, to cover up their role in Deng’s death.
Charles Lai, Kenny Kwan, Raymond Lam, and Sheldon Wong, the frat brothers deemed by investigators to be directly responsible for injuring Deng, were charged with criminal homicide, involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, simple assault, hindering apprehension, hazing and criminal conspiracy, police said.
Others, including Yuen, were hit with conspiracy charges for lying to investigators.
Trials for the other defendants have not yet been scheduled, Metzger said.
Their hazing ritual, known as the "glass ceiling," took place in the early morning of Dec. 8, 2013, in the backyard of a Poconos home that Pi Delta Psi had rented for a pledging event.
During the brutal ritual, 19-year-old Deng was blindfolded and forced to carry a backpack with 20 to 30 pounds of sand along with several other pledges, as they ran through a gauntlet of fraternity brothers who repeatedly shoved and tackled him to the ground — sometimes taking running starts before slamming into him, court records show.
While the rest of the pledges took their beatings obediently, Deng fought back, kicking one of the fraternity members, records show. That's when "the 'bros' got mad" and started hitting him even harder, according to an investigation by a grand jury released by the Monroe County District Attorney's office in 2015.
A final tackle took Deng to the ground, but when he managed to get to his feet, he was mumbling and appeared dazed and unable to say the words pledges were ordered to repeat following the ritual, records show. He then collapsed and started making "snoring" sounds as he struggled to breathe, according to the testimony.
When the frat brothers realized Deng was injured, they brought him inside the home, where they laid him down by the fireplace and tried to feed him water and sugar, hoping to revive him, the testimony said.
But Deng remained unresponsive, gasping for air and shivering, with his body "straight like a board," witnesses testified.
While Deng was unconscious, members of the fraternity used their phones to search symptoms, including "pupils won't dilate" and "snoring but won't wake up," according to court documents.
They also called the national fraternity's president, Andy Meng, who encouraged them to cover up all evidence tying the fraternity to the incident. Following his advice, they moved all fraternity notebooks and paddles with the frat's symbols to the trunks of their cars, according to the records.
"That's our protocol, like, we don't like to get our fraternity involved in certain problems because it creates certain problems for the fraternity," one member, Danny Chen, told investigators, according to court documents.
More than an hour passed before three members carried Deng to the car and took him to a local hospital in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, records showed. By that point he was already in shock, investigators said.
At the hospital, as doctors tried in vain to revive Deng, members of the fraternity worked on getting their stories straight, and repeatedly lied to investigators about their own involvement and that of the fraternity, according to the court documents.
Doctors determined that Deng had suffered massive head trauma and damage to his lungs, caused by repeated impacts to his rib cage. He died of his injuries several days later.
"The delay in treatment of 1-2 hours significantly contributed to death of Mr. Deng," police said, according to grand jury testimony.
In the wake of Deng’s death, Baruch issued a lifetime ban against Pi Delta Psi, according to Baruch spokeswoman Suzanne Brodsky.
Yuen’s attorney and representatives of Pi Delta Psi did not immediately respond to requests for comment.