POCONO PINES, Pa. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Five men charged with murder in a fraternity hazing ritual that killed a 19-year-old Baruch College freshman have been arraigned in a Pennsylvania courtroom.
A judge Thursday set bail at $500,000 for four of the defendants and $150,000 for the fifth. All but one was posting bond Thursday afternoon.
Defense lawyers called Deng’s death a tragedy but said their clients didn’t intend to kill him, characterizing it as a fraternity prank gone horribly awry.
“They’re college kids,” said Robert Saurman, attorney for defendant Kenny Kwan, 26. “Something bad happened. They did not know how to react. That is not the same as a crime.”
Kwan left the courtroom and broke down crying ahead of his arraignment. He was consoled by another defendant, Charles Lai, 24.
“The fraternity obviously is disappointed, vastly, at the allegations in the criminal complaints, that their members would engage in conduct like this,” said Wes Niemoczynski, Pi Delta Psi’s attorney, who represented the fraternity at its arraignment. The fraternity could face a fine if convicted.
Lawyers for the other defendants argued against what they contended was punitively high bail, saying their clients come from supportive families and didn’t pose a flight risk or a threat to the community. Several of the defendants’ parents were in court Thursday.
James Swetz, attorney for Lai, told Magisterial District Judge Richard Claypool that the bail requested by the district attorney’s office was “simply an attempt to pander to the members of the media” for purposes of “shock value.”
Police said Deng was assaulted by fraternity brothers at a rented home in the Pocono Mountains.
Deng, a pledge at the Pi Delta Psi fraternity, was blind-folded, weighted down with a heavy backpack and forced to run a gauntlet during what was described as a brutal fraternity ritual, according to police. Deng was knocked unconscious during the incident, and police say fraternity members waited more than an hour before taking Deng to the hospital, where he died a day later from his injuries.
A Pennsylvania coroner declared Deng’s death a homicide.
The Pi Delta Psi fraternity itself also is charged with murder.
Thirty-two other suspects face less serious charges.
Baruch College threw the fraternity chapter off campus permanently in response to the incident.
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