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Man who killed 2 USC students from China avoids death penalty

Crime, Law and JusticeCrimeHomicideTheftJustice SystemScience

The fathers of two USC graduate students from China flew to Los Angeles to speak at the sentencing hearing for their children's killer Wednesday, calling him a "ruthless murderer" who shattered the hopes and dreams of their families.

Bryan Barnes, 21, escaped the death penalty by agreeing to plead guilty to two counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances in exchange for two consecutive life terms in prison without the possibility of parole.

His guilty plea came before a trial in the slayings of Ying Wu and Ming Qu, 23-year-old USC engineering students from China who were killed while sitting in a parked BMW about a mile west of campus.

At the sentencing hearing, the students' fathers, XiYong Wu and Wanzhi Qu, told the court how the shooting deaths had devastated their lives too.

"The two families were destroyed and we've been mourning ever since," Qu said. "Our mind and body are weak and unstable; we get sick easily and have been unable to work."

Nine days before he died, his son told him the couple were in love, Qu said.

"My wife cries all the time," he said. "She is on the verge of a mental breakdown."

Wu also relayed the pain of losing his daughter.

"I no longer have the opportunity to spoil her one more time," he said. "The vicious murderer you see here in court took away her life but also shattered the dreams and hope of our entire family into pieces and pushed us into the abyss of endless pain."

The slayings rocked the USC community and drew media attention in the victims' native China.

Barnes' co-defendant, 21-year-old Javier Bolden, is still awaiting trial. Because of the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder in the commission of a robbery, prosecutors could have sought capital punishment in the killings.

Despite the plea deal reached with Barnes, Qu called on the court to sentence him to death, saying "a murderer must pay with his life."

Addressing Barnes, he said: "We don't know what to expect for the rest of our lives, it's going to be very hard. You devastated our lives. You deserve the death penalty."

Bolden is due in court March 21. Prosecutors have not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

Twitter: @LAcrimes

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