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Judge rules Deng murder case should proceed

By Madina Toure

After a preliminary hearing Monday in the trial of five Baruch College Pi Delta Psi fraternity brothers charged in the hazing death of Oakland Gardens resident Michael Deng, 19, a Pennsylvania judge ruled Tuesday that there is enough evidence to proceed with a trial.

Deng died in December 2013 after he was blindfolded, forced to carry a heavy backpack across the frozen ground and tackled in the Asian fraternity’s “glass ceiling” hazing ritual in Pennsylvania, according to the Pocono Mountain Regional Police.

The five fraternity members—Charles Lai, Kenny Kwan, Raymond Lam, Daniel Li and Sheldon Wong—had appeared before Magisterial District Judge Richard S. Claypool in Pocono Pines, Pa. Oct. 22, according to the Magisterial District Court.

They were charged with murder, aggravated assault, hindering prosecution, involuntary manslaughter, simple assault, hazing and conspiracy, the court said.

The purpose of the hearing before Claypool in Stroudsburg, Pa., was to establish probable cause to proceed with the case, according to Todd Greenberg, the lawyer representing Lam.

Greenberg said the judge determined that the case should proceed.

The prosecution’s witness, Daniel Li, the former president of Baruch’s chapter, testified at the hearing in Stroudsburg, Greenberg said. Pocono Mountain Regional Police Detective Robert Miller, among the officers who brought the charges, and Wieslaw Niemoczynski, the lawyer representing the fraternity, also testified.

Niemoczysnki, Miller and James Swetz, the lawyer representing Lai, could not be reached for comment.

“In a very basic sense, he (Li) testified that there was this ritual of the glass ceiling, which is meant to show the pledges of the fraternity how tough life is and the discrimination they will experience and how to meet that head-on and get past that,” Greenberg said.

Deng was knocked unconscious and authorities said there was a 90-minute delay before fraternity members sought medical assistance.

Lai and Kwan were also charged with possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia, the court said.

The court said 36 fraternity members and the fraternity itself face charges including assault, criminal conspiracy and homicide, but not all of them were charged with murder and aggravated assault.

Robert Saurman, the lawyer representing Kwan, said that when Li testified, he made it appear as though he was not involved, which Saurman said he does not believe.

But Saurman said there were not “hours and hours” between the incident and Deng being taken to the hospital, contending that there was at most a one-hour interval.

“Mr. Li said that Mr. Deng… was snoring so he thought he was fine and went to bed,” Saurman said. “So the idea that these young men—all in their teens and 20s—should have known that this was an emergency medical situation at the outset was shown to be ludicrous by that testimony.”

Kwan and Lam each posted $500,000 bails, according to their lawyers. The court said Wong posted $500,000 bail and that Li posted $150,000 bail. It is unclear whether Lai posted $500,000 bail.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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