By Albert Sabate
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Two men accused of fatally shooting a pair of Chinese graduate students at the University of Southern California were charged on Tuesday with capital murder, making them eligible to face the death penalty if convicted, prosecutors said.
Engineering graduate students Ming Qu and Ying Wu, both 23, were killed early on April 11 as they were sitting in a parked car outside Wu's rented home, a few blocks from the USC campus.
Their deaths were the result of an attempted robbery gone wrong, the Los Angeles District Attorney's office said, and sparked a debate over whether the university provides adequate security measures in neighborhoods adjacent to the urban campus where many students live.
The men arrested in the case, 20-year-old Bryan Barnes and 19-year-old Javier Bolden, have been charged with capital murder during a suspected robbery. Prosecutors have not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty or life in prison, both options in a capital case, the district attorney's office said.
Barnes and Bolden, handcuffed and wearing casual clothing, and acting serious and reserved, briefly appeared in a Los Angeles court on Tuesday to face the charges before the hearing was continued until June 25.
At least 20 young supporters of the defendants filled several rows of the courtroom, and shouted out support to Barnes and Bolden as the hearing ended. The judge ordered the pair held without bail.
Barnes and Bolden also face a separate charge of attempted murder in an unrelated shooting during a party in South Los Angeles in December 2011, in which both used a handgun to shoot a 20-year-old man, prosecutors said.
Barnes faces an additional count each of attempted murder and assault with a semiautomatic firearm for firing at, striking and injuring a man and a woman in their 20s during a party in February, prosecutors said.
Earlier this month the two Chinese students' families filed a wrongful death lawsuit accusing the school of misrepresenting the area where they were shot as safe and failing to provide security patrols.
The 15-page lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court said USC provides security in some areas around the campus, but not where the shooting of the two students occurred. It seeks unspecified damages.
USC had more than 7,200 international students enrolled in 2011 out of a total of nearly 37,000, and the largest group was from China, the school's website said.
(Additional reporting by Mary Slosson in Sacramento; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)