All four teenagers arrested in connection with the fatal beating of a USC graduate student will be charged with murder as adults despite two of them being minors, sources said.
Xinran Ji, a 24-year-old engineering student from China, was beaten with a baseball bat as he walked home from a study group about 12:45 a.m. Thursday, according to two law enforcement sources. Despite a head injury, Ji managed to stagger back to his apartment, where he was later found dead.
The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. The attack was one of at least two allegedly committed by the group.
Investigators followed a trail of blood from Ji's home to the scene of the attack just blocks away.
The two adult suspects were identified by police as Jonathan DelCarmen, 19, and Andrew Garcia, 18. Both were arrested on suspicion of homicide, but Garcia faces additional allegations of assault with a deadly weapon and robbery. Two juveniles, a 17-year-old male and 16-year-old female, were also arrested on suspicion of murder, assault with a deadly weapon and robbery. Their names were not released by police.
LAPD Cmdr. Andy Smith said the murder charges would carry special circumstances allegations that would make the adult suspects eligible for the death penalty.
Prosecutors under California law have discretion in certain crimes, including murder, to charge a minor as an adult. The courts, however, have ruled minors are not eligible for the death penalty.
Police said that there were no indications the suspects were gang members or that the attack was racially motivated.
"It was a senseless act of violence, regardless of their rap sheets. It was a senseless act," said LAPD Cmdr. Bill Scott. "I don't know what was going on in these individuals' minds."
Smith said two of the suspects were detained just hours after the attack, near the scene of a second alleged robbery at Dockweiler Beach. Two victims there flagged police down about 3 a.m., leading them to the two suspects. Detectives later linked them to the attack near USC.
Detectives believe a 14-year-old girl who was detained in connection with the Dockweiler Beach robbery also was involved in Ji's assault "in some manner," Smith said, though the "detail and depth" of her alleged involvement was not clear. A second female, 16, was detained in the same incident. Information gathered at the beach by Pacific Division officers helped connect the group to the USC student attack.
Detectives also said they believe the suspects may have committed other crimes Wednesday night or early Thursday, Smith said.
The law enforcement sources said security cameras and a license plate reader helped identify the suspects in Ji's death. USC Public Safety Chief John Thomas said the suspects were apparently not aware of the network of technology — including 150 cameras — scattered on and around campus.
Both the university and Los Angeles police amplified their security resources at the South L.A. campus and surrounding neighborhood after two Chinese graduate students were shot and killed in a botched robbery in 2012. Six months later, a man opened fire outside an on-campus Halloween party, injuring four people, though none of those victims were students.
Roger Xing, a spokesman for the Chinese Consulate in L.A., said it is providing assistance to Ji's parents and will work with LAPD and USC to better protect Chinese students at the university.
"The Chinese government is very concerned about the safety and well-being of its students overseas," Xing said in a prepared statement written in Chinese. "We are deeply shocked and strongly condemn this crime."
Ji, who came to USC last year, was an accomplished scholar and researcher in his native China, Dickey said. He was described as an avid photographer who loved cycling and playing badminton.
A memorial service was expected to be held later this week after Ji's parents arrive in Los Angeles.
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