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By David DeKok
HARRISBURG, Pa (Reuters) – Four former members of a New York college fraternity chapter face prison time when they are sentenced on Monday after pleading guilty to the most serious charges in a freshman’s 2013 hazing death in Pennsylvania.
The fraternity itself – Pi Delta Psi at Manhattan’s Baruch College, a unit of the City University of New York – faces up to 20 years probation and a $112,500 fine at the sentencing, in Monroe County Court of Common Pleas in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.
A jury in November found Pi Delta Psi, an Asian-American cultural fraternity, guilty of aggravated assault and involuntary manslaughter, marking what prosecutors and defence lawyers said was the first time a U.S. fraternity was criminally convicted in a pledge hazing death.
Chun “Michael” Deng, 19, died in December 2013 from head injuries suffered during a mandatory hazing initiation for prospective fraternity members called “the glass ceiling” at a rented home in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, about 100 miles (160 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 unconscious on snow-covered ground, police said.
Deng suffered head injuries, but 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 City borough of Queens, was the only child of his China-born parents.
Sheldon Wong, 25, Charles Lai, 27, Raymond Lam, 24, and Kenny Kwan, 28, entered guilty pleas in May to felony charges of voluntary manslaughter and hindering apprehension.
According to court documents, Wong was in charge of the pledging activities and, when the hazing went awry, Lai ran an attempted cover-up. Kwan was the last one to tackle the blindfolded Deng, while Lam “got physical” with Deng and fled before police arrived, court documents said.
Judge Margherita Patti-Worthington could sentence the four defendants to up to 27 years in prison, although state guidelines call for a sentence of 22 to 36 months.
All told, 36 former members of Pi Delta Psi were accused in Deng’s death and originally charged with felonies. Thirty have pleaded to reduced misdemeanor charges and were sentenced to probation ranging from 12 months to five years. Two defendants had their cases continued until Jan. 10.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Steve Orlofsky)