A state appeals court Wednesday ordered the case against the getaway driver in the beating death of a USC graduate student from China to be sent back to a lower court for further proceedings in which a judge may be asked to throw out his murder conviction.
In the second ruling in as many days involving one of the defendants convicted in the attack on Xinran Ji, a three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal reversed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge George G. Lomeli’s decision to deny Jonathan Del Carmen’s request for re-sentencing.
Del Carmen — who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and is serving a 15-year-to-life sentence in state prison — was one of four people convicted in connection with the July 24, 2014, attack on Ji.
The appellate court panel noted in its nine-page ruling that Del Carmen was requesting that the judge be directed to immediately vacate his murder conviction and re-sentence him given a change in state law, which eliminated the natural and probable consequences doctrine relating to murder. The judge had agreed with the prosecution’s contention that the change is unconstitutional.
“Although the court stated `it would seemingly appear’ Del Carmen was entitled to relief, that observation falls short of the finding required by the statute for issuance of an order to show cause,” the appellate court panel noted in its nine-page ruling.
“Moreover, contrary to Del Carmen’s truncated view of the process, after an order to show cause issues, absent a stipulation that he is eligible to have his murder conviction vacated and should be re-sentenced … the court must hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether to vacate the murder conviction and to re-sentence Del Carmen.”
The ruling comes one day after the same appellate court panel ordered the case against a second defendant, Alberto Ochoa, to be sent back to Lomeli for re-sentencing.
The justices directed Lomeli to consider “youth-related mitigating factors” in deciding whether to re-impose a life prison term without the possibility of parole against Ochoa, who was convicted of first-degree murder and was 17 at the time of the crime.
Co-defendants Alejandra Guerrero, who was 16 at the time, and Andrew Garcia, who was 18 at the time, were also convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Guerrero’s appeal is still pending. Garcia’s conviction was upheld in a May 2019 ruling, with the California Supreme Court refusing to hear the case against him last August.
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.
“Ji, bloodied and bleeding with a fractured skull, returned to his apartment, where he died a short time later,” the panel noted in its nine-page ruling in Del Carmen’s case. “The attack was caught on surveillance cameras.”
Deputy District Attorney John McKinney told jurors the victim was targeted because his assailants 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.