Tuesday 1 December 2020

Chinese Lehigh University chemistry student, 24, faces prison and deportation after admitting he tried to poison his roommate with a chemical once used in rat poison

 A former Lehigh University chemistry student on Monday admitted poisoning his roommate's food and drink with a toxic heavy metal substance previously used in rat poison.

Yukai Yang, 24, pleaded guilty to attempted murder. Under the terms of the plea agreement, the Northampton County District Attorney's Office will withdraw other charges in two separate cases against Yang.

Yang, a chemistry major from China, acknowledged he purchased thallium in March 2018 and began giving it to his roommate, Juwan Royal. 

Yukai Yang
Juwan Royal

Yukai Yang, 24 (left), has pleaded guilty to attempted murder for poisoning his roommate Juwan Royal (right) with a toxic heavy metal called thallium for three months in 2018

Royal testified in an earlier court hearing that he suffered weight loss, headaches and nausea. He likened the pain from the poisoning to being stabbed with 'hundreds of tiny knives.' 

Royal was diagnosed with heavy metal poisoning in April 2018. Thallium is odorless and tasteless, and can be fatal in humans. 

The soft metal is used internationally in electronics manufacturing and for other purposes. It once was used in rat poison in the US, but has been banned for that use since the 1970s.

Prosecutors said Yang spiked Royal's food, beverages and mouthwash with small amounts of thallium from February through April 2018. 

Royal called police for the time in February when he drank from a water bottle in his room and his tongue began to burn.

He said he woke up Yang to tell him what happened and washed his mouth out, but his tongue remained sore for a few days.

Then on March 18 Royal got sick again and police were called.

Yang, a Chinese international student, attended Lehigh University in Pennsylvania where he majored in chemistry

Yang, a Chinese international student, attended Lehigh University in Pennsylvania where he majored in chemistry  

Prosecutors said Yang told officers that the milk in the refrigerator and Royal's mouthwash had changed color. He told officers he believed someone was tampering with the belongings in their room.

Royal became sick again on the morning of March 29 when he began throwing up and shaking. He was taken to the hospital for treatment.

About a week later, graffiti that said 'n***** get out of here' was scrawled on Royal's bed and police were called. Royal is black. 

Yang provided a written statement that said he left the room and locked the door. But prosecutors said police compared the graffiti with Yang's letters and saw similarities. 

The motive is not known. Months before the attempted murder charge, Yang was charged with ethnic intimidation over the racial insult.

After Yang's computer was seized, he admitted to buying chemicals online but said it was intended to harm himself if his grades started to decline.

He did admit to mixing the chemicals with food and drinks in the dorm refrigerator.

Northampton County Deputy District Attorney Richard Pepper said Royal spent about two years in physical therapy because of neurological damage from the poison, reported Lehigh Valley Live.

'Two and a half years later he’s still having neurological issues with his toes,' Pepper said in court.

Yang faces between six to 20 years in state prison when he's sentenced on January 21. 

He is not a US citizen, and his student visa was revoked after his arrest. The judge told Yang he will likely face deportation to China upon completing his sentence.

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