A young man was sentenced Friday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for his role in the beating death of a USC graduate student from China who was attacked near campus while walking back to his apartment after a study session.
Despite the life-without-parole sentence, state law requires that Alberto Ochoa be given a parole hearing in 25 years because he was 17 at the time of the crime, according to Deputy District Attorney John McKinney.
A jury in downtown Los Angeles jury deliberated about two hours before convicting Ochoa, now 22, on Dec. 12 of first-degree murder for the July 24, 2014, attack on Xinran Ji. The 24-year-old electrical engineering student was able to stagger away from the attack scene and reached his nearby apartment, where he was found dead by one of his roommates.
Three other young people were previously convicted and sentenced for the attack
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, for which three other young people were previously convicted and sentenced.
The panel also found Ochoa 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.
Alejandra Guerrero, now 20, and Andrew Garcia, now 23, 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.
Rose Tsai, a representative for the victim’s parents, told the judge that Ji was “their only child, the joy and pride of their lives and the hope of their future” and that he was senselessly killed.
“The case is finally coming to an end today … However, there will be two persons who will continue to remember him and miss him every day,” Tsai said. “So the only possible consolation for their tremendous suffering and loss will be for this court to render the justice that they hope for.”
In a letter read in court by the prosecutor, USC’s vice president for student affairs wrote that it was “difficult to describe the impact this loss has had on our community.”
“We have waited many years for justice to be done for this terrible crime,” Ainsley Carry wrote. “Because of all of this, we would like to request the most severe sentencing for those who took away the life and shining light of Xinran Ji. The most severe sentencing may provide some consolation to Xinran’s parents and family for their tremendous suffering and loss and we hope such a sentence would deter other criminals from committing such heinous crimes.”
After the jury returned its verdict against Ochoa, 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 last December, noting that Ji was attacked while walking alone near the campus after walking a fellow student home following a study group meeting.
Defense attorney Christopher Chaney — who indicated to the judge that Ochoa plans to appeal his conviction — had urged jurors to acquit his client of the murder charge. He told the jury in his closing argument 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 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 said.
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.
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.