An 18-year-old woman was found guilty Thursday of the murder of USC graduate student Xinran Ji, who was killed during an attempted robbery off campus in 2014.
Jurors convicted Alejandra Guerrero on all counts for charges of first-degree murder, second-degree attempted robbery and assault with a deadly weapon in Ji’s case. She was also found guilty of second-degree robbery and assault with a deadly weapon in the case of Claudia Rocha, who was attacked several hours after the assault on Ji.
The sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 28. Guerrero, who was a minor at the time the crime was committed and therefore is not eligible for the death penalty, could face up to a life sentence in prison and at minimum will be sentenced to 25 years to life. Three others — Andrew Garcia, Jonathan DelCarmen and Alberto Ochoa — are also charged with Ji’s murder, but will be tried later in the year.
Jurors deliberated for just over a day before delivering the verdict in Guerrero’s case, following a two-week trial that began with opening arguments on Sept. 30. Prosecutor John McKinney presented evidence during the trial that suggested Guerrero and the others with her had specifically targeted Ji, including Facebook messages that referenced “flocking,” a term Guerrero and her peers used to describe robbing.
McKinney argued that there was no evidence Guerrero had been forced to attack Ji, and that she participated of her own free will. Ji’s blood was found on the jeans Guerrero was wearing that night, and video evidence presented during the trial showed Guerrero striking Ji with a wrench, which McKinney said was one of the fatal blows.
Guerrero’s attorney Errol Cook, however, argued that Guerrero was the youngest of the attackers and thus was clearly not the leader of the group. Cook presented the defense’s arguments during cross-examination of the prosecution witnesses to cast doubt on the prosecutor’s argument that Guerrero had acted willfully to kill Ji.
Ji, a graduate engineering student from China, was attacked on July 24, 2014, as he was walking back to his off-campus apartment near 29th Street and Orchard Avenue. Evidence presented during the trial showed a car pulling up next to Ji and Garcia, Ochoa and Guerrero jumping out; Ochoa went after Ji with a baseball bat and struck the first blow, while Garcia followed with a second blow from the bat and Guerrero attacked Ji with a wrench.
After the attack, Ji dragged himself back to his apartment and was found lifeless the next morning by his roommate. Medical reports indicate that he suffered a broken nose, internal bleeding, several skull fractures and lacerations all over his face.
Ochoa and Garcia were taken into custody roughly two hours after Ji was attacked, when a man they allegedly attempted to rob called the police near Dockweiler State Beach. DelCarmen and Guerrero were arrested later that day after the robbery attempt on Claudia Rocha.
Urmila Venkataramani contributed to this report.