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Chemistry student to face trial for allegedly poisoning roommate with thallium

Judge raises bail to $2.5 million to prevent deportation

by Dalmeet Singh Chawla
February 18, 2019

Credit: Reuters
A Reuters video discusses the alleged poisoning of Juwan Royal by Yukai Yang at Lehigh University.

A chemistry student who allegedly poisoned his roommate with highly toxic thallium will face trial and has had his bail raised to $2.5 million, the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas in Pennsylvania announced at a preliminary hearing on Feb. 8.

Yukai Yang, an international student from China, was an undergraduate chemistry major at Lehigh University. He had been jailed without bail at Northampton County Prison since Jan. 4 following allegations that he tried to get himself deported to avoid prosecution, according to the Associated Press.

Yang faces charges of attempting to commit homicide, recklessly endangering another person, aggravated assault, and simple assault. Yang was previously charged in April 2018 with ethnic intimidation for allegedly writing racist graffiti in the room he shared with Juwan Royal.

Yang and Royal had been roommates for several years. Royal reportedly began suffering symptoms of dizziness, vomiting and shaking in February 2018. According to the New York Post, police also found traces of cadmium inside Yang and Royal’s dorm room. But tests of Royal’s blood found only traces of thallium, which is colorless, odorless, and toxic to multiple organs.

Authorities are also investigating whether Yang tried to poison a second Lehigh student as well. Another of his former roommates said he had spotted discolored beverages in their shared fridge, the Morning Call reported.

In an interview with investigators last May, Yang reportedly admitted buying the harmful chemicals on the internet to poison himself if he didn’t perform well in exams, the New York Post reported. Instead, he mixed the chemicals into food and drink in the shared fridge in his dorm.

In December 2018, Zijie Wang, a former chemistry PhD candidate at Queen’s University in Canada, was sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to poisoning his roommate with the carcinogen N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA). Wang, who was also an international student from China, also introduced the substance into his roommate’s food and drink. As for Yang, his initial bail amount was $210,000, but judge Stephen Baratta revoked that bail last month to ensure Yang wasn’t deported until decisions were made on his charges. On Feb. 8, judge Nancy Matos Gonzalez raised Yang’s bail to $2.5 million.

Yang will be held in Northampton County prison while he awaits his arraignment on Apr. 25. His family will be reimbursed the $210,000 they previously paid for his bail.

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