A former Lehigh University student from China is accused of slowly poisoning his roommate by contaminating his milk and other drinks with a dangerous chemical. Yukai Yang was charged December 20 with attempted murder, aggravated assault and other charges, the Northampton County, Pennsylvania, district attorney’s office announced.
The 22-year-old Yang was previously arrested in April on charges that he wrote racial slurs on his roommate’s belongings. His now-former roommate, Juwan Royal, is black. Yang is still facing racial intimidation charges in that case. But Royal also had been feeling ill for several months and told police something suspicious was happening. Investigators said they found that Yang had been poisoning Royal with thallium, The Morning Call reports.
“This was over a period of time with small amounts of poisoning occurring,” Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli said at a press conference. “It was added to food and drinks in the refrigerator.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Yang’s Roommate Told Police His Mouth Began to Burn After Drinking From a Water Bottle & He Then Fell Sick Multiple Times During a Month-Long Period
Yukai Yang is accused of poisoning his roommate, Juwan Royal, over several months, Lehigh Valley Live reports. According to prosecutors, the first incident was in February 2018, when Royal drank from a water bottle in his room and felt a burning sensation in his mouth.
District Attorney John Morganelli said at a press conference that Royal woke up Yang and told him what happened. They went to the bathroom together and Royal rinsed out his mouth. Royal said Yang told him, “so the substance that they are putting in your drink is colorless, odorless and dissolves in water.” Royal told police his mouth and tongue were sore for a few days after the incident.
On March 18, Royal called police and said he believed someone was tampering with items in his room. He said the milk in his fridge and his mouthwash had changed color, Morganelli said. On March 29, he told police he became sick again. During that incident, he was vomiting and shaking and went to a local hospital for treatment.
In April, after the racist graffiti incident, Royal reported the February incident to police and submitted blood to be tested. His blood tested positive for the toxic metal thallium, with 3.6 micrograms per liter, above the safe toxicity level, and he began treatment for thallium poisoning, Morganelli said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control:
Thallium is tasteless and odorless and has been used by murderers as a difficult to detect poison. It is found in trace amounts in the earth’s crust. Thallium has not been produced in the United States since 1984, but is imported for use in the manufacture of electronics, low temperature thermometers, optical lenses, and imitation precious jewels. It also has use in some chemical reactions and medical procedures. Thallium was used historically as a rodenticide, but has since been banned in the United States due to its toxicity from accidental exposure.
Thallium can be absorbed into the body by inhalation, ingestion, and skin contact. Ingestion is an important route of exposure.
The CDC says thallium exposure “can lead to nausea, painful limbs, rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, kidney damage and nerve damage.”
Royal graduated in May 2018 with a degree in African American/black studies and is also a musician aspiring to start a rap career, according to his social media profiles. Police said Royal is still recovering from his exposure to the poison. “This victim is still experiencing physical symptoms from this poisoning that occurred,” Morganelli said at the press conference.
2. He Is Accused of Writing ‘N*gger Get Out of Here’ on His Roommate’s Belongings in the Room They Shared
Yukai Yang was arrested in April on charges accusing him of writing racial slurs, including “n*gger get out of here,” with a black marker in the bedroom of his roommate, Juwan Royal. The slurs were written on Royal’s belongings, including his bed, desk and TV, Lehigh Valley Live reported at the time.
Police said the handwriting on a written statement provided to investigators by Yang matched the handwriting style of the racial graffiti, according to court documents. Royal told police he was puzzled by what happened, saying they had been roommates for several years and he thought they got along well.
“Initially, Mr. Royal was as dumbfounded by this as everyone else, because he believed they had a fairly cordial relationship as roommates,” Assistant District Attorney Abe Kassis said at a press conference, according to NBC News.
Royal could not be reached for comment by Heavy.
Yang was charged in April with ethnic intimidation, institutional vandalism and criminal mischief. He was free on 10 percent of $10,000 bail at the time of his arrest on the new charges related to the alleged poisoning of his roommate. In the original case, Yang is due in court on January 18 for a pretrial conference.
3. Yang Admitted to Buying Thallium Online & Told Police He Mixed It in Drinks in the Fridge He Shared With His Roommate, Authorities Say
Authorities said Yang did admit to buying thallium, but said he intended to use it on himself, not on his roommate. According to the district attorney’s office, Yang told police that he wanted to hurt or possibly kill himself if his grades dropped.
Yang “admitted to purchasing various chemicals on the Internet, including Thallium and stated they were purchased with the intent to harm himself if he did poorly on future exams,” the district attorney said at a press conference.
Cadmium, another toxic metal, was found in the room, but police said it was not found in Royal’s blood.
Yang also told police that he had mixed the chemicals with some drinks in a fridge he shared with his roommate. But the charges against Yang indicate that prosecutors believe he was intentionally trying to harm his roommate, not that his roommate was accidentally exposed to the chemicals Yang had purchased.
4. He Was Studying Chemistry at Lehigh as an International Student & His Visa Was Revoked After His Arrest on the Racial Intimidation Charges
Yukai Yang is originally from Shapingbaqu, China, and was studying as an international student at Lehigh University. After his arrest in April, Yang was suspended by the university and his student visa was eventually revoked, authorities said.
Yang was studying chemistry at Lehigh and was set to graduate in 2018, according to a profile on Merit Pages. He was a dean’s list student during the 2015, 2016 and 2017 academic year, according to the Merit Pages profile. Litle else is known about Yang. He will turn 23 on December 26.
Lehigh University is located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. At a press conference on Thursday announcing his arrest, Northampton District Attorney John Morganelli called Yang’s behavior “weird and bizarre.”
Yang is no longer enrolled at Lehigh University. His attorney told The Morning Call that Yang would have graduated in May 2018 along with Royal. He has been living in Easton, Pennsylvania, with his mother since being released on bail in the April case, his attorney told the newspaper.
5. Yang Is Being Held at the Northampton County Prison on $200,000 Bail & Faces Up to Life in Prison if Convicted of the Attempted Murder Charge
Yukai Yang is being held at the Northampton County Prison on $200,000 bail. He is awaiting arraignment on the new charges of attempted murder, aggravated assault, simple assault and recklessly endangering another person, according to online records. He could face up to life in prison if convicted of the attempted murder charge.
Yang’s attorney, Janet Jackson, has not issued a statement on his arrest and could not be reached for comment by Heavy.
“The Lehigh University Police Department has worked closely with the District Attorney’s Office on the investigation and will continue to do so. From the outset, our concern has been the health and safety of the victim of these alleged behaviors and, as such, Lehigh staff and faculty have been providing support, services and assistance,” Lehigh University spokeswoman Lori Friedman said in a statement.