HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) – Dozens of former members of a New York fraternity will head back to a Pennsylvania court this week to face charges in the 2013 hazing death of a Baruch College freshman during an initiation ritual in the state’s Pocono Mountains.
Chun “Michael” Deng, 19, died from head injuries while pledging to become a member of Pi Delta Psi, an Asian-American cultural fraternity at Baruch in Manhattan.
Sixteen former fraternity members were due to appear on Tuesday in Monroe County Court of Common Pleas in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, with another 15 scheduled there for Wednesday. Four other young men linked to the case pleaded guilty in May to being accomplices to voluntary manslaughter and other charges.
Last week, Pi Delta Psi itself was convicted of charges including aggravated assault, a felony, and involuntary manslaughter, a misdemeanor, but was acquitted of third-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter, both felonies. Prosecutors and defense lawyers said it was the first U.S. conviction of a fraternity in a pledge hazing death.
Deng died after being injured in a ritual known as the “glass ceiling” at a home the fraternity rented in the Poconos, about 100 miles (155 km) west of New York City.
During the incident, Deng was blindfolded, wore a 30-pound (14 kg) backpack and ran a gauntlet of fraternity members who tackled and knocked him down on the snow-covered ground in December 2013, police said.
The college students waited for more than an hour before driving him to a hospital, authorities said.
Deng, a nationally competitive handball player from the New York borough of Queens, was the only child of his China-born parents.
Among those defendants due in court on Wednesday is Andy Meng, brother of U.S. Representative Grace Meng of New York.
Deng’s death and others like it have led to sharp criticism of the fraternity and sorority system in U.S. universities, where prospective members often must endure brutal rituals to gain admission into the social organizations. At Pennsylvania State University in February, student Timothy Piazza died after an alcohol-fueled pledging ordeal.
In the Baruch case, Queens, New York, residents Sheldon Wong, 25, Charles Lai, 26, Kenny Kwan, 28, and Raymond Lam, 23, pleaded guilty in May and are due to be sentenced on Dec. 4 by Judge Margherita Patti-Worthington.
They could face up to 27 years in prison, although state guidelines call for 22 to 36 months.
Editing by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn