A 21-year-old man was convicted Wednesday of first-degree murder for the killing of a USC graduate student from China who was attacked near campus while walking back to his apartment after a study session.
A downtown Los Angeles jury deliberated about two hours before finding Alberto Ochoa guilty in connection with the July 24, 2014, attack on Xinran Ji, a 24-year-old electrical engineering student. Ji was able to stagger away from the attack scene and reached his nearby apartment, where he was found dead by one of his roommates.
Jurors also found that Ochoa was an “actual killer,” along with finding true the special circumstance allegation of murder during the commission of an attempted robbery and an allegation that he used a baseball bat during the attack. The panel also found him guilty of one count each of assault with a deadly weapon, robbery and attempted robbery involving an attack on a man and woman at Dockweiler Beach about two hours after Ji’s beating.
Ochoa could face life in prison without the possibility of parole, with sentencing set March 8 before Superior Court Judge George G. Lomeli.
But under state law, the young man is expected to receive a parole hearing after spending 25 years behind bars given his age at the time of the crimes, the prosecutor said outside court.
Three other young people have already been convicted and sentenced in connection with the deadly USC attack.
Alejandra Guerrero, now 20, and Andrew Garcia, now 22, are each serving life prison terms without the possibility of parole after being convicted of first-degree murder and other charges. The getaway driver, Jonathan Del Carmen, now 23, was sentenced to 15 years to life in state prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder.
“We’re very satisfied with the outcome of this case,” Deputy District Attorney John McKinney told reporters outside court after the verdict. “We believe the jury listened to the evidence, followed the law, returned the proper verdict. The greatest satisfaction, though, is for whatever closure and peace there is for Ji’s family back in China, who have been following these proceedings.”
The prosecutor called the attack on Ji “incredibly brutal.”
“Mr. Ji suffered through a nightmarish and hellacious beating. The coroner described the blows to his head as blows that he typically sees in high-impact car accidents,” McKinney said, noting that Ji was attacked while walking alone near the campus after walking a fellow student home following a study group meeting.
Ochoa’s attorney, Christopher Chaney, declined to comment after the verdict.
In his closing argument Tuesday, the defense lawyer had urged jurors to acquit his client of the murder charge. He told jurors that “Mr. Ochoa is not guilty of the murder of Mr. Ji.”
“I don’t see a bat. I don’t see a swinging of a bat,” the defense attorney said of surveillance video from the scene.
“He (Ochoa) withdrew seconds after it started,” Chaney told jurors, noting that the surveillance video shows Ochoa getting back in the car and not participating with Guerrero and Garcia in a second attack on Ji after he was able to run down the street and around a corner.
The defense attorney alleged that Guerrero was responsible for the bulk of the injuries, telling jurors the teenage girl was armed with a wrench. He said there was no evidence that Ochoa had inflicted a fatal blow.
The prosecutor countered that Ochoa — who was 17 at the time of the attack — got out of a car while armed with a baseball bat and was a “substantial factor” in Ji’s death.
“You know Ochoa did something to him, his face … that broke his skin,” McKinney said, noting that the victim left a blood trail and that his broken glasses were found on the street where he was initially attacked.
“Clearly he (Ochoa) was a major participant,” the prosecutor told jurors.
He told jurors to contrast Ji’s decision to walk a female classmate home after a study session with the types of decisions that Ochoa and his friends made. He said Ochoa and his co-defendants targeted Ji because they thought he was an “easy target” who was walking alone in the dark.
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