By David DeKok
STROUDSBURG, Penn. (Reuters) - The former president of a New York fraternity chapter linked to a pledge's death during a suspected hazing ritual testified on Monday that his fraternity secretly encouraged hazing.
Daniel Li, 23, of Queens, New York, who faces third-degree murder charges along with four fellow Baruch College Pi Delta Psi fraternity members, was called as a surprise witness in the death of Chun “Michael” Deng.
Li, who testified in Pocono Pines, Pennsylvania District Court before Magisterial District Judge Richard Claypool, said the national office of his former fraternity publicly pretended to condemn hazing by its members.
“In actuality, the national fraternity knew very well (that hazing went on),” Li said.
He said the fraternity provided a special e-mail address to notify at its main office if a pledge was seriously injured during hazing so the organization could devise an excuse. Pledges were encouraged to lie to police if questioned, Li said.
Calls to the fraternity's attorney were not immediately returned.
Deng, 19, died of brain damage and other injuries inflicted in December 2013 during a pledging ritual known as the “glass ceiling” at a rented home in the Pocono Mountain region of Pennsylvania.
In addition to Li, Charles Lai, 24; Kenny Kwan, 26; Raymond Lam, 22; and Sheldon Wong, 23, all from Queens, face third-degree murder charges in Deng's death.
Blindfolded and wearing a 30-pound back pack, Deng was tackled repeatedly and slammed to the ground, prosecutors said.
The back 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.
Li, who witnessed the final moments of Deng's hazing, said the victim staggered to his feet after being tackled by Lai. Shortly afterward, Kwan crashed into him with a 15-20 foot running start.
“His back hit the ground. He did not get up,” Li said. “He was making slight, groaning sounds.”
Li told defense lawyers that he did not have authority to stop the "glass ceiling" ritual but Wong did.
Claypool is expected to rule by Tuesday on whether a trial against the men can proceed. He would not allow Li to say whether he had a plea deal, agreeing with the prosecution that witness credibility was not an issue for a preliminary hearing.
(Editing by Laila Kearney, Bernard Orr)