One of the two men charged in the slayings of two USC graduate students from China pleaded guilty Wednesday to two counts of murder in exchange for the prosecution not seeking the death penalty. He will instead serve two consecutive life terms in prison without the possibility of parole.
Bryan Barnes pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder, and admitted the special circumstances of multiple murders and murder during the commission of a robbery in the killings of Ying Wu and Ming Qu, which rocked the USC community and drew international media attention in the victims' native China.
The fathers of both victims, Wanzhi Qu and Xiyong Wu, addressed the court, speaking of the great devastation and loss their families have suffered when their children were killed "for no reason," according to the L.A. County district attorney's office.
The students were fatally shot while sitting in Qu's parked BMW on a rainy April night in 2012, and authorities initially struggled to find a motive.
Barnes, 21, was arrested for the killings along with Javier Bolden, 20, in 2012 after Los Angeles police detectives from the Southwest Division were able to connect Wu's stolen black iPhone to the suspected gunmen.
Bolden continues to await his own trial in the case.
During a weeklong preliminary hearing last year, prosecutors revealed investigators used the GPS in Wu's phone to track down its whereabouts. That information pointed to Barnes.
Investigators then got a court order to eavesdrop on Barnes' telephone conversations. In one, he allegedly talks to Bolden and appears to acknowledge their involvement in the shooting, authorities said.
During the call, which was played in court last week, Barnes casually describes his attempt to sell the phone prosecutors believe was Wu's.
Barnes said he had hoped to unlock the phone to give to Bolden as a birthday present. Instead, he sold it to a mobile store for $230, according to a transcript of the call. At one point in the conversation, Barnes describes an incident in which he and Bolden "ran up on them little Asian people" and alludes to shooting the phone's owner.
At the conclusion of that hearing, Judge Stephen A. Marcus said Bolden's lack of surprise on the call — he periodically responds to Barnes with "mmnh-mmnh" and "yeah" — was enough to cast doubt on his attorney's argument there was insufficient evidence pointing to Bolden's participation in the shootings.
Barnes' former girlfriend also testified he later admitted to stealing the phone. She also testified Barnes told her he "might've shot somebody" in the process.
Marcus concluded there was "more than enough evidence" tying the two men to the slayings and ordered them to stand trial for murder.
In addition to the slayings of the USC students, investigators said they were able to link Barnes and Bolden to another shooting in which one victim was struck eight times. Bolden was allegedly tied to another shooting in which two people were wounded.
Shell casings recovered from the scene of Wu's and Qu's slayings tied the shootings together, authorities said.