Jury deliberations began Wednesday in the trial of the first of four young people to go on trial on charges stemming from the beating death of a USC graduate student from China, who was attacked near the campus two years ago.
The seven-woman, five-man jury is due back at the downtown Los Angeles courthouse Thursday morning to continue its deliberations on the fate of 18- year-old Alejandra Guerrero.
Guerrero and three co-defendants are charged with murder for allegedly attacking Xinran Ji as the 24-year-old electrical engineering student walked home from a study session about 12:45 a.m. on July 24, 2014.
Ji left behind a blood trail as he made it back to his fourth-floor apartment, where he was found lifeless by one of his roommates.
The murder charge includes the special circumstance allegation of murder during the commission of an attempted robbery.
Guerrero is also charged with one count each of robbery, attempted robbery and assault with a deadly weapon for an alleged attack on a woman and a man at Dockweiler State Beach less than two hours later.
Guerrero — who was 16 at the time of the crime — is being prosecuted as an adult.
Jonathan Del Carmen, 21, Andrew Garcia, 20, and Alberto Ochoa, 19, are awaiting trial separately in connection with Ji’s killing. Garcia and Ochoa are also charged with robbery, attempted robbery and assault with a deadly weapon involving the alleged attack at the beach.
Prosecutors opted not to seek the death penalty against Del Carmen and Garcia. Guerrero and Ochoa could not face the death penalty because they were both under 18 at the time of the crime.
In his closing argument Tuesday, Deputy District Attorney John McKinney told jurors that Guerrero “minimizes her own involvement” by claiming she hit Ji on the hand with a wrench and was “lying about the victim fighting back” when she was interviewed by Los Angeles police detectives.
The prosecutor told the jury that Guerrero’s Facebook posts before the deadly attack on Ji show that she is a “leader” who refers to “flocking” or robbing people.
“This is not your average 16-year-old. Your average 16-year-old does not engage in savage behavior like this for fun, for kicks,” McKinney said.
The deputy district attorney said Guerrero had “plenty of opportunities to not directly participate” in the attack on Ji, telling jurors that there was no evidence that Guerrero had been coerced to get out of the car with Garcia and Ochoa to confront the victim.
“You have plenty of evidence that they were out there to commit robbery,” McKinney said. “They didn’t actually get property. They attempted to rob him … They’re responsible for the consequences of their act.”
Guerrero’s attorney, Errol Cook, countered that it would be up to jurors to determine “what level of culpability” his client should face for her actions. He repeatedly referred to her age at the time, told jurors that the others with her were older, and disputed whether she would have been a leader in the group.
Guerrero had no intent to kill Ji and had no idea that a baseball bat would be used as a weapon during the attempted robbery, nor did she deal any of the “death blows” to the victim, Cook said, telling jurors that a baseball bat recovered near Dockweiler Beach did not contain any of his client’s DNA.
“You will see that the charge of first-degree murder is not supported by the evidence,” Cook said. “It is not provable beyond a reasonable doubt … I’m not saying that she is a good girl.”
Guerrero’s attorney told jurors that he was “focusing on the murder charge” and was “not worried” about the charges involving the alleged attack at Dockweiler.
Ochoa and Garcia were taken into custody while walking by the Hyperion Treatment Plant after the man they allegedly attempted to rob summoned a patrol car at nearby Dockweiler State Beach. Del Carmen and Guerrero were arrested later that day.
Ji’s killing occurred two years after two other USC graduate students from China were shot to death during an April 2012 robbery as they sat in a car that was double-parked on a street near the USC campus.
Two men — Javier Bolden and Bryan Barnes — were convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the killings of Ying Wu and Ming Qu, who were both 23.
—City News Service
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