HARRISBURG – A fraternity has not convinced a Pennsylvania appellate court to order a new trial over the 2013 death of a freshman during a ritual known as “The Crossing” that took place in the Poconos, though the court has decided a ban on operating in the state went too far.
In “The Crossing, members of the Pi Delta Psi fraternity body-slammed pledges to initiate them. In 2013, it resulted in the killing of Chun Hsien Deng, an 18-year-old student at Baruch College in Manhattan.
Four frat members pleaded guilty to reduced charges and implicated the fraternity itself. The criminal punishment against Pi Delta Psi included a $112,500 penalty and 10 years of probation – a period that prevented the corporation from conducting any business in Pennsylvania.
The state Superior Court on May 23 affirmed the fine but not the probation imposed by the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas.
“This Court can find nothing in our statutes or at common law that affords a trial court authority to outlaw a corporation from an entire state,” Judge Deborah Kunselman wrote for a 2-1 majority.
The frat, as described in the opinion, is an Asian-interest-based organization. It provided a “Pledge Manual” that included physical rites and rituals.
Three New York-based chapters were present at the fatal 2013 accident (Penn State University’s was not). The national president helped students conceal the cause of Deng’s death by telling them to lie to police and hide frat literature, the opinion said.
“Facing criminal homicide charges, members decided to cooperate with prosecutors and began to implicate the corporation,” the opinion says.
Ultimately, a Monroe County jury acquitted Pi Delta Psi of third-degree murder but convicted it of involuntary manslaughter and other lesser charges.
The frat brought up 10 issues on appeal that were rejected by the Superior Court, which then tackled the legality of the sentence.
Part of state code potentially authorized the probation period, the court wrote.
“But outlawry from the whole Commonwealth bears no relation to the corporation’s rehabilitative process,” Kunselman wrote. “Instead, it is punitive in nature, and such a condition of probation cannot be sustained under (state law).
“Also, this condition unjustly punishes the Penn State Chapter of Pi Delta Psi, students who had absolutely nothing to do with the hazing death in this case.”
The court found that corporations have “no soul” and can’t feel guilt.
“And so, outlawry of a corporation makes no more sense now than it did in the 17th century because, like any tool, the corporation is no more morally accountable than a hammer or a sword or a firearm,” Kunselman wrote.
“It is the wielder who sins; not his or her weapon.”
Judge James Gardner Colins dissented from the majority because of the issue of expert testimony. He says the exclusion of a witness who would have testified to the national standard of care for frats was unfair to Pi Delta Psi.
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach editor John O’Brien at firstname.lastname@example.org.