A state appeals court panel Tuesday upheld a young man’s murder conviction for his role in the beating death of a USC graduate student from China who was attacked near campus, but ordered his case to be sent back for re-sentencing.
In a 19-page ruling, the three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal found that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge George G. Lomeli must consider “youth-related mitigating factors” in deciding whether to re-impose a life prison term without the possibility of parole against Alberto Ochoa, who was 17 at the time of the July 24, 2014, attack on Xinran Ji.
“Accordingly, when, as here, the record is at the very least ambiguous as to whether the court understood its obligation to consider youth-related mitigating factors at sentencing before making the discretionary sentencing decision (required by state law) … remand is appropriate,” the appellate court panel found.
Jurors convicted Ochoa of first-degree murder and found that he 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 also convicted and sentenced.
The panel also found Ochoa guilty of one count each of assault with a deadly weapon, robbery and attempted robbery for his involvement in an attack on a man and woman at Dockweiler Beach about two hours after Ji was targeted.
Alejandra Guerrero, who was 16 at the time, and Andrew Garcia, who was 18 at the time, 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, who was 19 at the time, was sentenced to 15 years to life in state prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder.
The appellate court panel noted that Ji was the victim of a “particularly brutal attack” in which the 24-year-old electrical engineering student was struck with a metal baseball bat and a wrench while walking home to his apartment from a study session just after midnight.
“After his attackers left, Ji, bloodied and severely injured, managed to return to his apartment, where he died a short time later,” the justices noted. “The attack was captured on surveillance cameras, and the footage was played for the jury.”
Deputy District Attorney John McKinney told jurors that 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.
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