STROUDSBURG, Pa. (Reuters) - More than a dozen former members of a New York fraternity chapter pleaded guilty on Tuesday to reduced charges and were sentenced to probation in the 2013 hazing death of a Baruch College freshman during an initiation ritual in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains.
Chun “Michael” Deng, 19, died from head injuries while pledging to become a member of Pi Delta Psi, an Asian-American cultural fraternity at Baruch in Manhattan.
Seventeen former fraternity members appeared in Monroe County Court of Common Pleas in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday, some accompanied by their parents. As the result of plea bargains, 15 of them pleaded guilty to reduced charges and the cases of the final two were continued.
“You are better than this,” Judge Margherita Patti-Worthington told the group, urging its members to learn to think for themselves. “Be individuals and do the right thing going forward. Don’t get caught up in group think.”
Thirteen more defendants were expected to plead guilty on Wednesday, including Andy Meng, former national fraternity president and brother of U.S. Representative Grace Meng of New York, prosecutor Kim Metzger said.
Four other young men linked to the case pleaded guilty in May to being accomplices to voluntary manslaughter and other charges.
Last week, Pi Delta Psi itself was convicted of charges including aggravated assault and involuntary manslaughter but acquitted of third-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter, both felonies. Prosecutors and defence lawyers said it was the first U.S. conviction of a fraternity in a pledge hazing death.
Deng died after being injured in a ritual known as the “glass ceiling” at a home the fraternity rented in the Poconos, about 100 miles (155 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 down on the snow-covered ground in December 2013, police said.
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.
Deng’s death and others like it have led to sharp criticism of the fraternity and sorority system in U.S. universities, where prospective members often must endure brutal rituals to gain admission into the social organizations. At Pennsylvania State University in February, student Timothy Piazza died after an alcohol-fueled pledging ordeal.
Editing by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Peter Cooney