NEW YORK -- The first five of 37 suspects in the hazing death of a New York City freshman fraternity pledge appeared Thursday in a Pennsylvania courtroom to face charges.
Fraternity members at Baruch College physically abused Chun "Michael" Deng during a December 2013 hazing ritual in the Pocono Mountains, about 100 miles west of New York, then tried to cover it up, police said.
Five men, include the former national president of the Pi Delta Psi fraternity, were arraigned on three felony counts related to what police say was an effort to conceal the crime, as well as one misdemeanor charge of hazing. A magistrate released them on $50,000 unsecured bail and set a preliminary hearing date of Oct. 16.
None of the young men had anything to say to reporters, and only one of their lawyers offered comment.
"Certainly, this is a tragedy. Everybody understands that," said Todd Greenberg, attorney for Andy Meng, the former fraternity president. "Our deepest sympathy, and the Meng family's deepest sympathy, to the family of Mr. Deng."
Greenberg said Meng will plead not guilty.
Police say fraternity members blindfolded the 19-year-old Deng, forced him to wear a heavy backpack and then repeatedly tackled him during a hazing ritual known as glass ceiling. Deng fell unconscious and was carried inside the house while fraternity members changed his clothes and did an Internet search of his symptoms, waiting an hour before taking him to the hospital, according to court documents. He died a day later.
Deng was the last of several pledges to be hazed that weekend. Police have said he was treated more harshly than the other pledges, though they have not said why he was forced to suffer extra abuse.
A forensic pathologist determined Deng suffered repeated trauma to the head, torso and thighs.
Authorities are arresting suspects in waves, moving from least to most culpable. Five other suspects, as well as the fraternity itself, are expected to be charged with third-degree murder.
"We want to bring justice to the victim's family, and we want to do it fairly and let the defendants have their day in court," Pocono Mountain Regional Police Chief Chris Wagner said outside court Thursday.
Pi Delta Psi, an Asian-American cultural fraternity, was founded more than 20 years ago at Binghamton University in New York. It severed ties with the Baruch College chapter shortly after Deng's death, with Meng issuing a press release that said the chapter had "violated the values and rules of our organization."
But police say Meng himself was involved in the attempted cover-up. Contacted by one of the fraternity members shortly after Deng was knocked unconscious, Meng "encouraged the group to hide all fraternity items," police said.
Current national fraternity officials have remained silent on the charges. The fraternity could be fined if convicted.
5 arraigned in Poconos hazing death of Baruch College student