LOS ANGELES (AP) — Three Los Angeles teenagers were ordered Thursday to stand trial on murder charges in the slaying of a Chinese graduate student at the University of Southern California.
Judge M.L. Villar made the ruling in Los Angeles County Superior Court after hearing testimony from police and watching videos that a prosecutor said showed the fatal beating of Xinran Ji.
Ji, 24, was hit with a bat during an attempted robbery July 24 as he walked to his off-campus apartment after a late-night study session. He ran from his attackers, but they caught him a block away and continued the beating until he was on his knees.
Jonathan Del Carmen, 19, Alberto Ochoa, 17, and Alejandra Guerrero, 16, will be arraigned on the murder count Jan. 29. A fourth teen, Andrew Garcia, 19, faces a preliminary hearing at a later date because of questions raised about his mental competency after outbursts in court. All four pleaded not guilty after their arrests.
Deputy District Attorney John McKinney said the four were driving around looking for someone to rob when they saw Ji. One of the suspects said they targeted Ji because he looked Chinese, and they thought he would have money.
The killing renewed concerns about the safety of USC's Chinese students, who make up about 40 percent of the school's large foreign population. Two other Chinese graduate students were murdered off campus in 2012.The school and Los Angeles police beefed up patrols after those killings and added surveillance cameras.
Video cameras in the area caught footage of Ji being surrounded by the teens and struck with a bat. A second camera showed him running around the corner and then being caught a second time, where he was seriously beaten.
A USC public safety officer's car can be seen on video passing the crime scene seconds after Ji managed to get up.
He staggered home, trailing blood the whole way. His roommate found him dead in bed the next morning.
It will never be known why he didn't seek help, but a coroner testified he likely would have died from the wounds even if he got help, McKinney said.
"He suffered the most significant brain injury, so it's hard to believe that his judgment wouldn't have been compromised at some level," said McKinney, who also suggested an alternate explanation. "He was someone who extends a helping hand to others more than he seeks a helping hand. He may have been in a position where he thought he could take care of this himself."
A couple hours after the beating, the four went to the beach, where Garcia, Ochoa, Guerrero allegedly robbed a tourist and attacked her friend.
Ochoa and Guerrero face robbery, attempted robbery and assault with deadly weapon charges related to that attack.
Del Carmen and Garcia could face the death penalty if convicted. Ochoa and Guerrero are charged as adults, but they can only face up to life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted because of their ages.