Yukai Yang, a former Lehigh student from China, pleaded guilty earlier today in Northampton County Court to charges of attempted first-degree murder stemming from a 2018 incident in a Lehigh residence, court documents show.
Yang is set to be sentenced in January and could face up to 40 years in state prison.
Yang, 24, is from China. He was also charged with simple assault, aggravated assault and recklessly endangering another person.
The charges are related to Yang’s attempted 2018 poisoning of his roommate in their Warren Square room. At first, Lehigh Police were investigating reports of vandalism and racial slurs found in the room that appeared to be directed at Yang’s roommate, Juwan Royal, which sparked a rally on campus in April 2018. Originally, Yang was arrested and charged with ethnic intimidation, institutional vandalism and criminal mischief, according to an email sent to the Lehigh community by President John Simon at the time.
But the Northampton County District Attorney’s office wanted to follow up on Royal’s reports that a few weeks before the vandalism, in March 2018, he was feeling ill. After a forensic analysis and written reports by Royal claiming that he drank water and felt a burning sensation on his tongue in February 2018, it was found that there was an unhealthy amount of thallium in Royal’s blood.
Thallium can affect the nervous system if large amounts are ingested and can possibly result in death.
Yang was interviewed by the Lehigh University Investigations Unit on May 25, 2018, and disclosed that he had purchased chemicals, including thallium. He reported he planned on harming himself if he did poorly on exams. He admitted to mixing the chemicals with the foods in the communal refrigerator.
After his confessions, Yang was charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault, simple assault and reckless endangerment.
Then-District Attorney John Morganelli said the poisoning occurred over a span of a few months.