Former Lehigh University student charged with poisoning roommate waives preliminary hearing

Law Offices of McMonagle Perri McHugh Mischak and Davis
The Morning Call

By Riley Yates

With his alleged victim in the courtroom, a former Lehigh University student accused of trying to poison his roommate waived a preliminary hearing Friday, acknowledging that enough evidence exists for the case to proceed.

Yukai Yang, a 23-year-old chemistry major, will face trial in Northampton County Court for the attempted murder of his longtime roommate, after giving up his right to a preliminary hearing, under which prosecutors must justify their accusations.

Yang’s decision came at an appearance before District Judge Nancy Matos Gonzalez in Easton. He reached it after huddling with his lawyers, who also spoke with his family outside the courtroom.

Though waivers are often a signal of plea negotiations, Assistant District Attorney Abraham Kassis told Matos Gonzalez that Yang has received no promises from prosecutors, and the defense retains the ability to challenge the evidence as the case proceeds.

“There has been at this point no agreed upon resolution to this case,” Kassis said in court.

Defense attorneys Janet Jackson and Fortunato Perri Jr. declined to comment after the hearing.

Authorities allege Yang slowly poisoned roommate Juwan Royal with thallium, an odorless and colorless chemical that is highly toxic. Royal was so sickened that on two occasions in March, Lehigh University police were called to his aid, and he continues to have health problems, authorities said.

Royal, a potential witness on Friday, was in court flanked by his parents. The waiver spared him the possibility of having to take the witness stand.

“I don’t think it was something he was looking forward to, but he certainly came ready to do so,” Kassis said.

Yang is being held in Northampton County Jail without bail, after prosecutors accused him days after his arrest of trying to flee to his native China by orchestrating his own deportation. In January, Judge Stephen Baratta revoked Yang’s bail, saying it was the only way to ensure he isn’t deported before his charges are resolved.

In another twist, District Attorney John Morganelli has said authorities are investigating whether Yang may have also tried to poison a second student. Morganelli said the probe came after another former roommate said he noticed discolored beverages in their shared refrigerator, though he was not sickened. Morganelli said last month that investigators want to interview others who lived with them.

The attempted murder charges came after a months-long investigation and represented the second case involving Yang, who was already accused of scrawling racist graffiti directed at Royal, who is black.

In April, Yang was charged with ethnic intimidation after police said he wrote the N-word and “GET OUT OF HERE” in marker on Royal’s desk in their room at Warren Square, and also trashed Royal’s television and bed.

Authorities say Yang’s motives are unclear, as he and Royal lived together seemingly without incident for several years.

In an interview with investigators in May, Yang admitted he used the internet to buy thallium and other chemicals, and to mixing them into foods and drinks he stored in a refrigerator he shared with Royal, authorities said. But Yang claimed he intended to use the poisons to harm himself “if he did poorly on future exams,” according to authorities.

Yang’s next court appearance is scheduled for April 25, when he will be arraigned in county court.

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