A 20-year-old woman sentenced to life in prison in beating death of USC grad student

Four attackers ambushed Xinran Ji as he walked to his off-campus apartment in 2014

Twenty-year-old Alejandra Guerrero pleaded with a judge to spare her a life prison term for her conviction in the baseball-bat beating death of USC graduate student Xinran Ji in 2014.

"I am so sorry and I pray that one day they could forgive me," Guerrero said.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge George Lomeli last Friday sentenced Alejandra Guerrero to life in prison without the possibility of parole. An accomplice, Jonathan Del Carmen, was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

Rose Tsai, an attorney representing Ji's parents, read a letter from Ji's family during the sentencing hearing.

"These criminals senselessly took his life at age 24. These criminals destroyed the best thing in our life and all our hope. We live in sorrow and darkness every day," Tsai said. "If there is ever a way for us to pursue inner peace and move on to live our lives, it must begin with knowing these criminals receive maximum punishment under the law."

Prosecutor John McKinney read a letter written by USC Vice President for Student Affairs Ainsley Carry. "The most severe sentencing may provide some consolation to Xinran's parents and family for their tremendous suffering and loss," Carry wrote. "And we hope such a sentence would deter other criminals from committing such heinous crimes."

Defense attorneys asked the judge to consider Guerrero and Del Carmen's poor family background before sentencing them.

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, presented in court in January 2015, 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. 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.

Alejandra Guerrero was convicted of first-degree murder in October 2016. Jonathan Del Carmen pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in August 2017. A third defendant, Andrew Garcia, was convicted of first-degree murder in June 2017. He was sentenced in August 2017 to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

A fourth defendant, Alberto Ochoa, now 21, is awaiting trial.

Tsai said the judge gave the severest sentence possible, especially since this case involves several minors.

Tsai said 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.

Tsai said judicial officers saw the severity of this case and returned the case to adult court.

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 received mandatory safety education

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.

Tsai said in an interview in March 2018 that Ji's mother felt some consolation when she heard her son's death led to improvements in campus safety.

You can navigate a timeline of this case from 2014-2016 from our previous coverage here.

You can reach Ruby Yuan by email kaidiyua@usc.edu