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Ex-university student in poisoning case is ordered to jail

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Posted at 8:35 PM, Jan 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-04 22:35:13-05

EASTON, Pa.- A former Lehigh University student accused of poisoning his roommate was ordered held without bail Friday over allegations he sought to flee to his native China by orchestrating his own deportation to avoid prosecution.

Yukai Yang must remain in Northampton County Jail until his criminal charges are resolved, a judge ruled at a hearing, the Allentown Morning Call reported .

Yang, a 23-year-old chemistry major and Chinese national, was charged last month with the attempted murder of his roommate, allegedly slipping the colorless, odorless chemical thallium into his food and drink.

Prosecutors are probing whether Yang also tried to poison a second Lehigh student.

Last week, prosecutors said they foiled an attempt by Yang to leave the country by making bail and cooperating with immigration agents.

"Mr. Yang thought that because he is a foreign national, now here illegally in that his student visa has been revoked, that he could post bail, waive his right to a deportation hearing and abscond," Morganelli said in a statement. "That will not happen."

On Friday, Yang's defense team argued that he is not a flight risk and is entitled to bail, even if he is under an immigration detainer that could see him removed from the United States. Outside of court, defense attorney Janet Jackson declined to comment on the case, beyond a brief statement.

"My client intends to fight these charges, completely intends to fight these charges," she said. "And I'm not as interested in trying this case in the press as the commonwealth seems to be."

Yang was being held under $200,000 bail. But a day after his arraignment, Yang's family posted the money, leading Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to take Yang into custody to deport him.

Prosecutors allege Yang intended to waive challenges to his removal, allowing him to immediately be sent to China. That had prosecutors seeking to have Yang held without bail.

Judge Stephen Baratta said in agreeing to the request that it was the only way to make sure he isn't deported, otherwise "it's a done deal. He's out of here if I don't do anything."

Yang was initially charged this spring with vandalism and ethnic intimidation after the roommate, who is black, found racist graffiti in the room. The roommate has since graduated, but continues to suffer effects of the poisoning, authorities said. The two had lived together for several years without incident, authorities said, adding Yang's motives remain unclear.

Assistant District Attorney Abraham Kassis told the Morning Call that authorities continue to probe whether there is a second victim, and couldn't comment further.