Hazing Homicide; Four Pi Delta Psi Fraternity Members Plead Guilty in 2013 Pledges Death

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Image via Rich Shultz of Associated Press

Four members of the Pi Delta Psi fraternity, Kenny Kwan (28) Charles Lai (26) Raymond Lam (23) and Sheldon Wong (24) pleaded guilty on Monday to reduced charges of voluntary manslaughter as accomplices and hindering apprehension for concealing evidence for the 2013 death of Chun “Michael” Deng (18). The death occurred as a result of injuries sustained during a fraternity ritual hazing on a group trip to the Poconos in Pennsylvania.

The dangerous and secretive nature of hazing rituals that some fraternities participate in has been a controversial subject for many years on college campuses across the country. Many fraternities and sororities use hazing as a right of passage, a bonding technique that will connect the members for life. Nevertheless, some hazing goes too far and has therefore been banned from most universities. Any hazing that requires excessive and dangerous alcohol use or physical abuse, could end in serious bodily injury and sometimes death. Recently the topic has grabbed headlines on blogs and cable news due to some high profile deaths as a result of hazing. Likewise, in 2013 an 18-year-old Freshman at Baruch College, Chun “Michael” Deng became a victim of extreme hazing. This week (Monday 15th), the Deng family received a little bit of comfort when four of the members of Pi Delta Psi fraternity who were responsible for the young man’s death pleaded guilty in a court of law.

In 2013, the fraternity members were participating in a ceremony called “glass ceiling” with its new pledges. The pledges were carrying a backpack containing 30 pounds of sand and were blindfolded. A fraternity member would call the pledge’s name and the pledge would be instructed to walk towards that individual calling his name. However, when he attempted to walk other fraternity brothers physically prevented that from happening by punching the pledge as he walked over the frozen yard. When they attempted to do this with Deng, he fell backward striking his head and became unresponsive.

According to police, the fraternity brothers did not immediately take him to the hospital or call for help. Allegedly they researched his symptoms online as he lied unconscious next to a fireplace. Ultimately two hours passed before he received medical attention. Deng was pronounced dead at the Pennsylvania hospital that three fraternity members drove him to in the wee hours of the morning. Forensic analysis determined the delay in treatment “significantly contributed to the death of Mr. Deng” and resulted in neurogenic shock, police said.

Baruch College freshman Chun "Michael" Deng, 18, died after a fraternity ritual in 2013.

                                        Chun “Michael” Deng (image via CNN)

Four years after Deng’s death Kenny Kwan, Charles Lai, Raymond Lam and Sheldon Wong plead guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter as accomplices and hindering apprehension for concealing evidence for Deng’s death. Furthermore, more than 30 fraternity members are awaiting court proceedings in connection with the death after a Monroe County, Pennsylvania grand jury recommended charges. In addition to the young men, the fraternity, Pi Delta Psi, is also charged with murder and is scheduled to begin trial this November.
Typically, in hazing cases, offenders are charged with manslaughter. In New York, manslaughter is a form of homicide or conduct which causes the death of a person committed when a defendant recklessly causes death (second-degree) or causes death with an intent to cause serious physical injury (first degree). The base sentence for involuntary manslaughter under New York sentencing guidelines is a 10 to 16-month prison sentence, which increases if the crime was committed through an act of reckless conduct. Here, the fraternity members plead guilty to manslaughter but will be sentenced at a later date.
The news of the Pi Delta Psi guilty plea comes along in the same news cycle in which 18 fraternity member in a Penn State University fraternity were charged in connection with the death of 19-year-old freshman Timothy Piazza. Piazza died as a result of alcohol poising during a hazing incident. Pizza’s death led to one of the largest criminal indictments against a fraternity and its members. More than 1,000 counts were levied against 18 members of Beta Theta Pi, including eight who were charged with involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault.

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