A 19-year-old man and two teenagers were ordered Thursday to stand trial for the beating death of a USC graduate student from China who was attacked near the campus while walking back to his apartment last summer.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge M.L. Villar said she found “overwhelming” evidence to require Jonathan Del Carmen, 19, Alberto Ochoa, 17, and Alejandra Guerrero, 16, to proceed to trial on a murder charge stemming from the robbery-motivated July 24 attack on Xinran Ji.
Ochoa and Guerrero were also ordered to stand trial on one count each of robbery, attempted robbery and assault with a deadly weapon for an alleged attack on a man and woman at Dockweiler State Beach less than two hours later.
A fourth defendant, Andrew Garcia, 19, is also charged with Ji’s murder, along with robbery, attempted robbery and assault with a deadly weapon for the Dockweiler State Beach attack. Criminal proceedings against him were suspended Tuesday pending an evaluation next month to determine if he is mentally competent to stand trial.
Along with murder, all four defendants face a special circumstance allegation that the murder occurred during an attempted robbery. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office will decide later whether to seek the death penalty against Del Carmen and Garcia. Ochoa and Guerrero, who are charged as adults, cannot face the death penalty because they are under 18.
Ji, a 24-year-old electrical engineering student, was attacked about 12:45 a.m. after walking a woman home from a study group that wrapped up at about 12:30 that morning. He managed to make it back to his apartment, where he was found lifeless in his bed by one of his roommates, who called 911 after he failed to respond when she called out his name.
In testimony Wednesday, LAPD Detective Paul Shearholdt said Del Carmen, Ochoa, Guerrero and Garcia gave varying accounts about the attack on Ji while being interviewed one-by-one at the LAPD’s 77th Street Division.
All four acknowledged in police interviews that there had been discussions in the car about “flocking” — or robbing — people, the detective testified.
Garcia told investigators that the man was targeted because he was Chinese and must have money, according to Shearholdt.
He said Del Carmen told police that Garcia and Ochoa directed him to return to the area after spotting the victim, and that Ochoa, Guerrero and Garcia got out of the vehicle after he made a U-turn and stopped.
“He told me that he saw them beating him up,” the detective said, adding that Del Carmen did not describe any specific actions by the teenage girl.
Guerrero told investigators that she had gotten out of the car with the intention to act as a lookout, saying she struck the victim in the hand with a wrench to defend herself because the victim was grabbing her, the detective testified.
Shearholdt testified that Ochoa — who appeared “scared” and “nervous” during the police interview — said Garcia instructed him to hit the victim, which he said he did once. Ochoa told police that Ji ran away after Garcia punched him in the face and that Garcia chased after him with a baseball bat and struck him everywhere, according to the detective.
In his interview, Garcia told police that he chased after Ji and struck him with his fists after Ochoa struck the victim in the shoulder or back area with a baseball bat, according to the detective. Garcia said Ochoa struck the victim with the end of the bat in a jabbing motion, the detective testified.
Ji died from severe cranial cerebral trauma, said Dr. Louis Pena, who performed the autopsy for the Los Angeles County coroner’s office. Ji also had a broken nose and bruising on his arms and one of his hands, and some of the injuries were consistent with defensive wounds, the deputy medical examiner testified.
When Deputy District Attorney John McKinney asked his opinion of the degree of force inflicted, Pena said it was “pretty severe.” Even if he had been taken to the hospital, Ji probably would have died within hours or days, the deputy medical examiner said.
The group allegedly went from the USC area to Dockweiler State Beach, where a man and woman who were sitting on the curb talking were confronted and the man was struck in the face by what the woman later told him was a baseball bat.
Ochoa and Garcia were taken into custody while walking nearby after the man they allegedly attempted to rob summoned a nearby patrol car at Dockweiler State Beach, according to testimony during the hearing. Del Carmen and Guerrero were arrested later that day.
Guerrero told police that she had taken about $26 from the woman because the group needed money for gas, according to testimony from the hearing.
An aluminum baseball bat was recovered from a brush area near Dockweiler State Beach and appeared to have blood on it, police testified.
— City News Service
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