A former Lehigh University student from China has pleaded guilty to attempted murder for poisoning his Black former college roommate in 2018.
Yukai Yang admitted guilt in a courtroom in eastern Pennsylvania on Monday as part of an agreement with the Northampton County District Attorney’s Office. The prosecution agreed to drop two other charges in exchange for a guilty plea to one count of felony attempted murder.
The charges stemmed from a series of events involving Yang and Juwan Royal, his former roommate. The pair shared a dorm room for four years while attending Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. In 2018, Lehigh University Police began investigating Yang, a chemistry major, after he was accused writing racist graffiti in their shared room. He was initially charged with ethnic intimidation, institutional vandalism and criminal mischief.
Royal also told authorities he felt sick after ingesting some water in March 2018, a few weeks before the vandalism. After the DA followed up on that report, a forensic analysis found there was a dangerous amount of thallium in Royal’s blood. During an October court hearing, he recalled experiencing “unfathomable pain” because of the poisonings, local station WFMZ reported.
“It was as if someone took a hundred tiny knives, set them on fire and was stabbing my feet,” Royal said.
Royal also experienced tingling in his extremities, heart palpitations, nausea and headaches. Due to illness and fear of eating, he lost about 20 pounds between March and May 2018.
During an interview with the Lehigh University Investigations Unit, Yang admitted he purchased the heavy metal and put it in food items in their refrigerator. The confession led to several charges including attempted murder, reckless endangerment, simple assault and aggravated assault.
Under the plea agreement, Yang faces up to 20 years in prison, half of the state maximum. He also faces deportation to his native China. He is slated to be sentenced on Jan. 21.