Tapes of killing shown in case of slain student

New evidence was presented Tuesday in the trial of Alejandra Guerrero, who is charged with the homicide of USC graduate student Xinran Ji. The prosecution showed videos of Ji leaving his apartment the night he was murdered, of Guerrero and the other suspects attacking Ji with a baseball bat and of a beaten and bleeding Ji returning home.

The court began the day’s proceedings by analyzing Facebook messages from Guerrero’s account, which included mentions of drugs including marijuana and crystal meth. The messages also referenced “flocking” during the night Ji was killed. “Flocking” is a term used to describe robbing, and established a motive for Ji’s murder.

Next, Detective Matt Courtney was called to the witness stand. He brought up text messages planning to “jack” or rob someone that night.

Prosecutor John McKinney then showed a video of the beating, where it showed Ji confronted by what appeared to be Andrew Garcia, then Guerrero, then Alberto Ochoa. Garcia and Ochoa will be tried separately at a later date.

In the video, Ochoa used a bat against Ji, then handed it to Garcia. When Ji began to run, Garcia chased him with the bat, and Guerrero soon followed with a wrench. Both tools delivered the fatal blows. Jonathan del Carmen, another suspect and a fifth person, never stepped out of the car.

McKinney then delivered a closing argument to the jury.

“A 2D photograph — that’s how we’ve come to know him. But before Guerrero and her friends slaughtered him, he was a person,” the prosecutor said, pointing to a picture of a smiling Ji on the overhead screen.

McKinney described Ji as warm and compassionate as well as analytical and creative.

“[Ji was] someone who bought into this concept of delayed gratification, someone who put work first, someone who studied hard, and someone who put off the frivolities of life for another time,” McKinney said. “And when I thought about that, I thought it was particularly sad that somebody who frontloaded life with his studies never got the chance to enjoy the fruits of his labor.”

However, McKinney admitted that over the span of the past two years, he had come around to a different way of thinking about Ji.

“Xinran didn’t delay gratification; his work was his gratification,” McKinney said. “The way he should be remembered is not the way he was found at 7 o’clock in the morning on July 25. The way he should be remembered is the way he lived.”

The prosecutor remarked that Ji didn’t drive around in cars at midnight looking for people to rob or assault, so he could smoke weed or drink alcohol, but instead loved his studies, loved engineering, loved being part of study groups and spending time with his classmates.

“What Guerrero and her friends took away from him is something so basic as waking up in the morning, smiling, breathing — [they] took away from us whatever promise this young man held,” McKinney said. 

The last minutes of Ji’s life, McKinney noted, were spent walking a friend home from a study group, where he had just spent four hours working with a team on a project.

“He didn’t stop at 29th and Orchard and say ‘See ya! You got the bike, call me when you get home, this is my stop, I’m just gonna walk from here,’” McKinney said. “He walked her all the way to her front door and then attempted to walk all the way back home; that’s just the kind of person he was.”

McKinney said that Ji had no way of knowing that Guerrero and her friends were in the neighborhood, or what would happen that night.

“When you think about this case, it’s tempting to think ‘Man, one more minute either way and maybe they don’t see him, maybe he makes it home, maybe if the study group ended five minutes early, maybe there was some sort of delay, maybe he makes it home,’” McKinney said. “It’s tempting to think about things like that, but we shouldn’t have to. One minute or five minutes more or less should not make the difference between life and death at the hands of another person in a civilized society.”