STROUDSBURG, Pennsylvania – A former Pennsylvania college fraternity president testified that he and four others charged in a pledge's death during an initiation ritual in the Poconos tried to "cover it all up" when they met weeks later.
Daniel Li testified against his four Baruch College fraternity brothers charged with third-degree murder in the 2013 beating death of 18-year-old Chun "Michael" Deng.
The five defendants, all from the borough of Queens in New York, were held for trial in northeastern Pennsylvania after the daylong preliminary hearing Monday. All but one had posted bail by late Monday night.
"They may have used some bad judgment, but that doesn't mean that they were covering up a homicide"
- Steven Brill, defense lawyer
Police have said the fraternity members blindfolded Deng, forced him to wear a heavy backpack and then repeatedly tackled him during a hazing ritual known as the glass ceiling.
Deng fell unconscious and was carried inside the house while fraternity members changed his clothes and searched online for information about his symptoms, waiting an hour before taking him to the hospital, according to court documents.
Deng, who had suffered a brain injury, died a day later.
Two weeks later, the Pi Delta Psi brothers gathered in New York to decide what to tell police, according to Li, who was the local chapter president.
"It was to determine what everyone said to police after Michael Deng's death. Charles Lai wanted to find out what everyone said so he could tell his lawyer," Li said, according to WNEP-TV.
Defense lawyer Steven Brill, who represents co-defendant Sheldon Wong, called the death an accident. No one initially thought the injuries were life-threatening, he said.
"These are scared kids who clearly had no intention to commit any crimes that weekend. So when this accident occurred, they may have used some bad judgment, but that doesn't mean that they were covering up a homicide," he told The Associated Press after the hearing.
He said there was no testimony Monday that Deng had asked for the hazing to stop, or was taking part against his will in the activities at the rented house in the mountains. There also was no evidence that Deng or anyone else had been drinking before he fell on the snow and ice, Brill said.
"He knew, like the other pledges knew, that this was the weekend he was going to cross over, to become a brother, and he knew what that entailed," Brill said.
The other defendants are Charles Lai, Kenny Kwan and Raymond Lam. Kwan was the last person to tackle Deng, Li testified.