STROUDSBURG, Pa. (Reuters) - A Pennsylvania court on Monday sentenced four members of a national college fraternity to a maximum of two years in prison and banned the group from operating in the state for 10 years because of the 2013 death of a student during hazing incident.
The court also fined Pi Delta Psi $112,500 for the death of Chun “Michael” Deng, a 19-year-old freshman from New York’s Baruch College, who was knocked unconscious by fraternity members who waited an hour before taking him to a hospital.
A jury in November found Pi Delta Psi, an Asian-American cultural fraternity, guilty of aggravated assault and involuntary manslaughter, marking what prosecutors and defence lawyers called the first time a U.S. fraternity was criminally convicted in a pledge hazing death.
“I would like to apologise on behalf of the fraternity to the Deng family,” said Wes Niemoczynski, a lawyer for the fraternity. “What happened to Michael Deng was horrific.”
But he said the penalty would “strangle” the fraternity financially and that he would appeal.
Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Metzger, the lead prosecutor, dismissed the apology and said, “this fraternity has not really accepted responsibility for the death of Michael Deng.”
Deng, 19, died in December 2013 from head injuries suffered during a hazing initiation for prospective members, or pledges, called “the glass ceiling” at a rented home in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains.
Sheldon Wong, 25, Charles Lai, 27, Raymond Lam, 24, and Kenny Kwan, 28, pleaded guilty in May to felony charges of voluntary manslaughter and hindering apprehension.
During the incident, Deng, a nationally competitive handball player, was blindfolded, wore a 30-pound (14-kg) backpack and ran a gauntlet of fraternity members who tackled and knocked him unconscious on snow-covered ground, police said.
According to court documents, Lai attempted to cover up the incident. Kwan was the last one to tackle the blindfolded Deng, while Lam “got physical” with Deng and fled before police arrived.
Wong and Lam were both sentenced to 10 to 24 months in prison on Monday, while Kwan was sentenced to 12 to 24 months, which were less than the state sentencing guidelines of 22 to 36 months. Lai was released on time served of 342 days.
Judge Margherita Patti-Worthington said she was torn by this case.
The fraternity has two chapters in the state, an active one at Pennsylvania State University in University Park and an inactive one at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg.
Editing by Susan Thomas and Lisa Shumaker