By David DeKok
HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) - Five members of a fraternity at New York City's Baruch College will appear before a Pennsylvania judge for arraignment on Thursday on charges of third-degree murder in the 2013 hazing death of a pledge.
The five, all from the New York borough of Queens, are the last of 37 defendants from the Pi Delta Psi fraternity to be charged in connection with the death of Chun “Michael” Deng, 19, of Oakland Park, N.Y., at a rented house in the Pocono Mountains region of Pennsylvania.
Most of the 37 are students or former students at Baruch College in Manhattan. Three were members of the same fraternity at St. Johns University in Queens.
Facing arraignment on Thursday are Charles Lai, 24, of Queens Village; Kenny Kwan, 26, of Astoria; Raymond Lam, 22, and Daniel Li, 22, both of Kew Garden Hills; and Sheldon Wong, 23, of Queens.
Prosecutors in Monroe County have said they were saving the defendants facing the most serious charges for last.
Each of the five is charged with third-degree murder. If convicted, they face a sentence of more than 10 years in prison, with the final number to be determined by Pennsylvania’s complex sentencing guidelines.
The defendants are also charged with between 13 to 18 other offenses, including assault, participating in an attempted cover-up, hazing, and in Lai’s case, drug violations.
At the arraignment in Pocono Pines, Magisterial District Judge Richard Claypool will read the charges to each defendant and set bail. No plea will be entered at the hearing.
Deng died of brain and other injuries inflicted during a pledging ritual known as the “glass ceiling,” police say. Blindfolded and wearing a 30-pound pack, he was tackled repeatedly and slammed to the ground, they say.
The pack was supposed to represent the weight of Pi Delta Psi, which describes itself as an Asian-American cultural fraternity. The “glass ceiling” gauntlet is intended to symbolize the difficulties Asian-Americans experience in battling prejudice.
The rented house where Deng was found dead is about 96 miles west of New York City.
With Thursday's arraignments tomorrow, all 37 defendants will have been formally charged. Pennsylvania law then provides for a preliminary hearing, where the prosecution presents the main points of its case to prove the arrest was justified.
Nine of the 37 defendants were scheduled for hearings on Oct. 16, but eight waived the hearing, and the ninth was granted a postponement.
More hearings are scheduled for Friday, and some or all of those may be waived.
Preliminary hearings for thee final six - the five defendants being arraigned Thursday, plus the one postponed on Oct. 16 - are set for early November.
(Reporting by David DeKok; Editing by Frank McGurty and Eric Walsh)