It has been four years and eight months since USC student Xinran Ji was robbed and killed by a group of teenagers near campus. The fourth and last attacker was sentenced on March 8 to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Alberto Ochoa, 22, was convicted of first-degree murder, second-degree robbery and other charges last December. Ochoa is the fourth and last defendants sentenced in the beating death of USC student Xinran Ji in 2014.
Ji's parents living in China could not be present at the court on Friday. Ji was their only child. Before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge George Lomeli gave his ruling, Ji's family attorney Rose Tsai read a letter on their behalf.
"This case finally comes to an end today. After today, we will all move on to our life. We may be reminded or remember Xinran's time at some point, but there will be two persons [that] will continue to mourn for and miss him endlessly," Tsai read. "It's his family [who] will miss his smile tomorrow, and another tomorrow and for the rest of their lives."
Prior to the ruling, Deputy District Attorney John McKinney read a letter from USC Vice President for Student Affairs Ainsley Carry penned on March 6 requesting "the most severe sentencing for those who took away the shiny life of Xinran Ji."
"The sentencing of those who murdered Xinran Ji is another somber reminder that the university continues to mourn the loss of such gifted student and member of our family," McKinney read. "It also reminds us Xinran Ji lives on those who treasure Xinran. USC stands for his family to continue to honor the too short life of Xinran Ji."
During the sentencing trial, Ochoa did not say anything but shed tears when Tsai was reading the letter. Ochoa has the right to file an appeal.
Tsai told reporters that the judge gave the most severe possible, especially that the defendant was minor when the crime happened.
"[Ji's parents] are grateful for all the support, care and encouragement they have received, especially from people who are in the U.S. and never knew them before," Tsai said. "Xinran's case has touched so many people's hearts."
On July 24, 2014, Ji, a 24-year-old engineering student from China, was escorting his friend back to her dorm after a study group. A group of teenagers robbed and beat him near the corner of 29th Street and Orchard Avenue, less than a mile from campus. He was struck on the head at least six times, an L.A. County medical examiner testified in January 2015.
Ji made it back to his apartment where he was found dead by his roommate on the fourth floor of the City Parks Apartments complex north of USC campus. He died from brain swelling and bleeding.
On July 28, 2014, police arrested five suspects. Four of them – Alejandra Guerrero, 16, Alberto Ochoa, 17, Jonathan Del Carmen, 19, and Andrew Garcia, 18 – were charged in connection with the killing. A 14-year-old girl was not charged.
Video from a surveillance camera near the USC campus, presented in court during the jury trial last December, showed the suspects circling the neighborhood to find their target. The footage shows Ochoa was the first one to strike Ji with a metal baseball bat. Taking the baseball bat from Ochoa, Garcia then chased Ji around the corner and struck him again. Guerrero was the third attacker and wielded a metal wrench. Del Carmen drove the car behind the three to pick them up after the attack. Police arrested the group in Dockweiler Beach, where they attempted to rob a couple.
During the jury trial, Ochoa's attorney Christopher Chaney told jurors that Ochoa went back in the car after his initial confrontation with Ji and "withdrew seconds after it started." Chaney blamed Guerrero and Garcia for causing fatal damage.
Prosecutor McKinney refuted Chaney's defense and told jurors that Ochoa was the first one attacked Ji and he came out of the car with the bat, which was later Garcia took from him to chase and hit Ji. "Clearly, [Ochoa] was a major participant," the prosecutor told jurors.
Previously, the other three defendants were convicted and sentenced.
- Alejandra Guerrero was convicted of first-degree murder in October 2016 and was sentenced in July 2018 to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
- Jonathan Del Carmen pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in August 2017 and was sentenced in July 2018 to 15 years to life in prison.
- Andrew Garcia was convicted of first-degree murder in June 2017 and was sentenced in August 2017 to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Tsai told Annenberg Media in July 2018 after Guerrero and Del Carmen were convicted that the case was delayed by new rules for trying juveniles as adults, established by voter-approved Proposition 57 in 2016. Before Proposition 57, the district attorney decided whether defendants would be tried in adult court. Proposition 57 allows judges, not prosecutors, to decide whether to try certain juveniles as adults in court. Guerrero's and Ochoa's lawyers tried to bring the case to the juvenile court, where defendants would get more lenient sentences, Tsai said. She said judicial officers saw the severity of this case and returned the case to adult court.
The coroner report said it's a miracle that Ji could manage himself back to his dorm, and his body was already dying when he got home. According to photos shown in the jury trial, there was a trail of Ji's blood from the attacking scene to his apartment. In his dorm, there were also large blood patterns on the floor, on the couch and on his bed.
According to Ji's roommate Yunyun Feng's testimony to jurors in December, Ji had a brief conversation with her about their future plans before he left home for the study group. There were four people-two men and two women- living in Ji's apartment. Only Ji and Feng stayed in Los Angeles during that 2014 summer break.
Feng said she was awakened by a noise around 3 a.m. that night. She described the noise like sniffing when a person had a "running nose." Feng said because Ji mentioned in the talk before he left that he had a cold, she went back to sleep.
At around 7 a.m., Feng woke up and found out blood all over the living room and Ji was lying on his bed with blood on his face. Feng called 911. The dispatcher worried it was an in-door attack and asked Feng to lock herself in her room while she was waiting for police and paramedics to come. She was later told in the hallway by a paramedic that Ji was gone.
"I was shocked," Feng said in her testimony. "I was crying in the hallway."
Ochoa and other defendants were first arrested for attempting to rob a couple in Dockweiler Beach. Police later found their connections with Ji's death. Ochoa did not mention in his interview and later denied to a detective that he previously went to USC that night, according to video footage shown during the jury trial.
Ochoa did not know they killed Ji until he was told by the detective, according to interview footage shown in the December jury trial. After he admitted that he did go to USC that night and then was asked a series of questions by the detective, Ochoa asked if Ji was dead. After the detective said yes, Ochoa put his hands on his head and blamed Garcia for Ji's death.
Tsai told reporters after Friday's hearing that Ji's parents are grateful that this case made the university and students aware of their safety on and off campus.
"While they will still continue to remember their only son very much, they are knowing that Xinran's legacy will not be forgotten," Tsai said. "They want to have a positive impact for this case be shown on the future security and society for our community."
Tsai told Annenberg Media in 2018 that Ji's mother felt some consolation when she heard her son's death led to improvements in campus safety.
USC Department of Public Safety Assistant Chief David Carlisle said in an interview in February 2018 that attack on Ji was caught on a surveillance camera, but the camera operator was distracted by an incident unfolding on another screen. Carlisle said DPS increased the number of camera operators from one to at least five.
In an email sent to the USC community in August 2014, USC then-President Max Nikias announced updates to campus security. The measures included more security ambassadors, also known as yellow jackets, would monitor activities in campus neighborhoods year-round — not only during the school year. Campus cruiser wait time was reduced to 15 minutes and incoming students became required to receive safety education.
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