An 18-year-old woman was convicted today of first-degree murder for the 2014 killing of a USC graduate student from China who was attacked near the campus while walking to his apartment after a study session.
Alejandra Guerrero was the first of four people to be tried for the killing of Xinran Ji, 24. The electrical engineering student was attacked around 12:45 a.m. July 24, 2014, but he managed to return to his fourth-floor apartment after the assault — leaving a trail of blood behind him.
He was found dead in his apartment by his roommates.
Guerrero is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 28, and she faces up to life in prison without parole.
The seven-woman, five-man jury found true the special circumstance allegation of murder during the commission of an attempted robbery. Guerrero was also convicted of one count each of robbery, attempted robbery and assault with a deadly weapon for an alleged attack on a woman and a man at Dockweiler State Beach less than two hours after the attack on Ji.
Guerrero — who was 16 at the time of the crime — was prosecuted as an adult, but because she was a juvenile at the time of the crime, the judge has the discretion of sentencing her to 25 years to life in prison, despite the special-circumstance allegation.
Jonathan Del Carmen, 21, Andrew Garcia, 20, and Alberto Ochoa, 19, are awaiting trial separately in connection with Ji's killing. Garcia and Ochoa are also charged with robbery, attempted robbery and assault with a deadly weapon involving the alleged attack at the beach.
Prosecutors opted not to seek the death penalty against Del Carmen and Garcia. Guerrero and Ochoa could not face the death penalty because they were both under 18 at the time of the crime.
In his closing argument, Deputy District Attorney John McKinney told jurors that Guerrero "minimizes her own involvement" by claiming she hit Ji on the hand with a wrench and was "lying about the victim fighting back" when she was interviewed by Los Angeles police detectives.
The prosecutor told the jury that Guerrero's Facebook posts before the deadly attack on Ji show that she is a "leader" who refers to "flocking" or robbing people.
"This is not your average 16-year-old. Your average 16-year-old does not engage in savage behavior like this for fun, for kicks,'' McKinney said.
The deputy district attorney said Guerrero had "plenty of opportunities to not directly participate" in the attack on Ji, telling jurors that there was no evidence that Guerrero had been coerced to get out of the car with Garcia and Ochoa to confront the victim.
"You have plenty of evidence that they were out there to commit robbery," McKinney said. "They didn't actually get property. They attempted to rob him ... They're responsible for the consequences of their act."
Guerrero's attorney, Errol Cook, countered that it would be up to jurors to determine "what level of culpability" his client should face for her actions. He repeatedly referred to her age at the time, told jurors that the others with her were older, and disputed whether she would have been a leader in the group.
Guerrero had no intent to kill Ji and had no idea that a baseball bat would be used as a weapon during the attempted robbery, nor did she deal any of the "death blows'' to the victim, Cook said, telling jurors that a baseball
bat recovered near Dockweiler Beach did not contain any of his client's DNA.
"You will see that the charge of first-degree murder is not supported by the evidence,'' Cook said. "It is not provable beyond a reasonable doubt ... I'm not saying that she is a good girl."
Guerrero's attorney told jurors that he was "focusing on the murder charge" and was "not worried" about the charges involving the alleged attack at Dockweiler.
Ochoa and Garcia were taken into custody while walking by the Hyperion Treatment Plant after the man they allegedly attempted to rob summoned a patrol car at nearby Dockweiler State Beach. Del Carmen and Guerrero were arrested later that day.
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.