A jury has found Alejandra Guerrero guilty of first-degree murder in the July 2014 death of USC student Xinran Ji.
Ji's family was not present for the trial. Rose Tsai, the attorney for the family said that, "Even before [the family] received the outcome, it meant a lot to them that Xinran has not been forgotten."
Guerrero was also found guilty of second-degree robbery, second-degree attempted robbery and assault with a deadly weapon. She will be sentenced on Nov. 28. Three other defendants are still awaiting trial.
The Night of the Attack
On July 24, 2014, Ji, a 24-year-old graduate student from China, was found dead in his apartment by his roommate on the fourth floor of the City Parks Apartments complex north of campus. The student was assaulted while walking back from a study session the night before in an apparent robbery. A trail of blood led to his apartment.
Cameras that recorded the assault showed a dark-colored sedan circling the neighborhood before three suspects exited the car. One suspect pulled a baseball bat on Ji and a second chased Ji around the corner. Another suspect hit Ji, while a fourth suspect drove behind to pick up the group. Two of the suspects allegedly attempted a second robbery and assault that night in Dockweiler Beach.
Then-USC provost, Elizabeth Garrett, sent an email to students and faculty notifying them of the death. Garrett referred to the assault as "an isolated incident" with "no apparent threat to the campus community."
Four days later, police arrested five suspects who they believed to be involved in Ji's murder, and four of them – Alejandra Guerrero, 16, Alberto Ochoa, 17, Jonathan Del Carmen, 19, and Andrew Garcia, 18 – were formally charged in connection with the killing. A 14-year-old female was also arrested but was not charged.
The four suspects pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, robbery, attempted robbery and assault with a deadly weapon. Prosecutors opted not to seek the death penalty against Del Carmen and Garcia, while Guerrero and Ochoa cannot face capital punishment as they were minors at the time of the crime. Although she was 16 when the murder occurred, Guerrero was tried as an adult. Garcia, Ochoa and Del Carmen will be tried separately from Guerrero.
At the trial, prosecutor John McKinney presented evidence to support the argument that Guerrero willfully and knowingly participated in the attack that led to Ji's death. He brought up messages exchanged between Guerrero and her friends that suggested they made plans to rob someone that night; the messages also made references to drugs. Video footage of the attack played during the trial showed Guerrero attacking Ji with a wrench, and DNA analysis of the jeans she was wearing that night were a positive match for the victim's blood.
"What Guerrero and her friends took away from [Ji] is something so basic as waking up in the morning, smiling, breathing … took away from us whatever promise this young man held," McKinney said during closing arguments on Tuesday.
Guerrero's attorney Errol Cook argued that she was not responsible for Ji's murder, as she was the youngest in the group and thus was susceptible to influence from the older boys. Furthermore, Cook brought up evidence that Guerrero was high on marijuana and therefore was not in full control of her actions. Cook also said that Guerrero was not the one who struck the death blow against Ji.
After the verdict, the family's attorney said that Ji's family was satisfied with the decision. "They tried their best to endure the pain and suffering for more than two years, and they've been hoping to hear this," said Tsai.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated when the defendants were charged with Ji's murder and the date Ji was found dead.