Xinran Ji suffered fatal blows to head

Jonathan DelCarmen and Alberto Ochoa listen to witnesses give testimony as Rose Tsai, attorney for Xinran Ji's parents, watches from the audience. | Daina Beth Solomon

Jonathan DelCarmen and Alberto Ochoa listen to witnesses give testimony as Rose Tsai, attorney for Xinran Ji’s parents, watches from the audience. | Daina Beth Solomon

By Daina Beth Solomon, Celeste Alvarez and Olivia Lavoice

Xinran Ji died from swelling and bleeding inside his brain after being struck on the head at least six times with a blunt object, possibly a baseball bat, testified a L.A. County medical examiner Wednesday as prosecutors revealed evidence about the killing.

The 24-year-old from China was attacked last summer in an attempted robbery near his apartment, blocks from where he studied engineering at the University of Southern California.   

Deputy medical examiner Louis Pena said any one of six blows could have been fatal. Ultimately, the brain stem, which controls one’s breathing and heart rate, failed as capillaries ruptured and bled.  [Read more…]

USC student attempted to flee fatal attack

Rose Tsai, attorney for Xinran Ji's family, speaks to reporters at the court last summer.  Daina Beth Solomon

Rose Tsai, attorney for Xinran Ji’s family, speaks to reporters at the courthouse last summer, shortly following Ji’s death. | Daina Beth Solomon

By Daina Beth Solomon and Olga Grigoryants

Xinran Ji sprinted into the middle of the street toward his apartment near the University of Southern California last summer as three attackers dashed after, striking him one by one with a baseball bat. The 24-year-old engineering student then staggered home, where officers found him dead the next morning.

This was the account prosecutors presented in court Tuesday as they revealed video footage of the July 24 attack on Ji, a USC graduate student from China.

Deputy District Attorney John McKinney credited multiple surveillance cameras with helping bring murder charges against four teenagers.

“Once you know they were involved… it becomes clear who is who in the video, at least to me,” McKinney told reporters, holding a photo of Ji in graduation robes at his side. “And I think it will be to any fact finder.”

Jonathan DelCarmen, 19, and Andrew Garcia, 18, could face the death penalty for murder committed in the attempt of robbery. Two alleged accomplices, Alberto Ochoa, 17, and Alejandra Guerrero, 16 — exempt from capital punishment because they are minors — could face life in prison without parole. All are being held without bail.

USC tightened campus security following the spring 2012 murders of two graduate students from China, who were shot to death as they sat in a parked car near campus in what police called a robbery attempt gone wrong. And the university revved up safety measures yet again when an alleged gang member opened fire at a campus Halloween party the same year, wounding four people. Among the upgrades were installing security cameras and license plate readers.

See also: Brandon Spencer is paying a 40-year price for four shots that killed no one 

About seven camera recordings painted a picture of the evening’s events, said Los Angeles Police Det. Matthew Courtney, who retrieved the footage from USC along with private companies. A university-operated license plate reader led officers to the defendants, he said.

The suspects circled the neighborhood in a dark, 1993 Honda Accord for several minutes before stopping near 29th and Orchard streets, said Courtney. There, a nearby camera captured three suspects exit the car and confront Ji, who had left the apartment earlier that evening for a study group on campus.

Ochoa was the first to turn the baseball bat on Ji, said the prosecutor. The suspect then passed it to Garcia, who chased Ji around the corner and slammed him again. Guerrero came quickly after, also striking Ji. DelCarmen drove behind the group, picking up his alleged accomplices.

Courtney said Ji’s roommate heard Ji sniffling when he returned around 3 a.m., but attributed it to a cold. She found him the next morning curled in his bed under a purple and white striped comforter, unresponsive.

When detectives entered, they discovered blood smeared on the floor, walls and bathroom sink. Red stains mottled Ji’s sneakers and white pants. As the prosecutor brought up an image of Ji’s white T-shirt soaked through in crimson, onlookers gasped, with one muttering: “Oh, God.”

A trail of blood splatters — on lobby walls, a UPS box and sidewalks — led detectives to the first attack site. Here, they recovered Ji’s metal-rimmed glasses, shattered.

The defendants watched these images projected onto a large screen attentively, without acknowledging each other or their families sitting alongside Ji’s supporters in the courtroom. DelCarmen, wearing a blue jumpsuit, and Guerrero, in orange, sat most of the day slouched and inexpressive. Ochoa, also clad in orange, raised his eyebrows and jiggled his right foot as the prosecutor displayed evidence. When a video of the attack was played, Ochoa took off his glasses and became still.

Garcia will be addressed separately. A judge said that the alleged accomplice, who made an outburst in court the day before, may be “incompetent to go through proceedings.” His lawyer did not attend Tuesday’s hearing.

A fifth person may also be involved: Prosecutors say a 14-year-old girl sat in the backseat of DelCarmen’s car. She has not been charged in Ji’s death. However, she is being prosecuted in juvenile court in connection with a second robbery that the gang attempted later that night at Dockweiler Beach.

One of two victims, Claudia Rocha, testified that she was sitting on a curb with a friend near a roadway overlooking the beach when Ochoa approached with a baseball bat over his shoulder. As he aimed it at her friend, Rocha suddenly found herself fending off the two girls.

“We just want the keys to the car,” she recalled Guerrero saying. Rocha responded she didn’t have a car, and Guerrero said, “Then give us your purse.” As Rocha resisted, Guerrero pulled out a pocket knife and slashed at her purse strap.

Police arrested all five suspects by the following morning, quickly linking their license plate and the bat to Ji’s killing.

McKinney will present additional evidence Wednesday, planning to call on Rocha’s friend, the coroner and other detectives to provide further details of Ji’s death.

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New USC Village breaks ground

Community members, student leaders, trustees and local politicians break ground with USC president Max Nikias. | Phoenix Tso/Neon Tommy

Community members, student leaders, trustees and local politicians break ground with USC president Max Nikias. | Phoenix Tso/Neon Tommy

Nearly 950 members of the USC community gathered Monday morning in 90-degree weather to celebrate the groundbreaking of the new USC Village, a project that aims to raise USC’s reputation around the world.

“There will be no one to catch up to,” said USC president C.L. Max Nikias about the appeal of specific project features to incoming students. These features include the 2700 beds to be added by 2017, and the retail space that will open up and about the McCarthy Honors College, which Trustee Kathleen Leavey McCarthy donated $30 million to build for incoming merit scholarship students. “Everyone will want to go where the action is.”

In the days leading up to the groundbreaking, admissions officials were excitedly anticipating how to market these features to next year’s freshmen. During the ceremony, President Nikias spoke of how USC was committed to transforming from a commuter university to a residential one, like “other preeminent universities.”

“This is special for us,” said Timothy Brunold, USC Dean of Admissions, in a phone interview in the days leading up to the groundbreaking. “The students we’re currently recruiting will be able to use it.”  [Read more…]

USC student tells of racial profiling in South LA

Tobi Oduguwa looks out onto the street where he said he experienced racial profiling in the area near USC. | Lensa Bogale

Tobi Oduguwa looks out onto the street where he said he experienced racial profiling in the area near USC. | Lensa Bogale

Tobi Oduguwa is a University of Southern California junior double-majoring in computer science and physics. But as a black man two inches over six-feet-tall, he gets asked what position he plays on basketball team more often than his major. The question comes up so often that he has given himself his own, unofficial basketball number.

“If you hear about a point-guard named number six, that’s actually me,” said Oduguwa.

But the assumptions aren’t always so harmless.

Oduguwa learned the hard way when officers from the USC Department of Public Safety stopped him one night outside of his apartment and, without explanation, asked to see his ID.

After being question, Oduguwa realized that he was suspected of choking a young woman in the building across from his own. It wasn’t until a friend vouched for Oduguwa that he was finally released. [Read more…]

South LA loses trees in Crenshaw/LAX Metro line construction

Construction for the new metro rail line on Crenshaw blvd.

Construction for the new metro rail line on Crenshaw blvd.

The new 8.5 mile Crenshaw/LAX light rail line could change the look of South L.A. by bringing an influx of businesses and pedestrian traffic. It could change the South L.A. landscape in another way, too: By cutting down about 100 trees along a two mile stretch of Crenshaw Boulevard between Exposition and 48th street to make room for the train.

Romell Pace, a local who sells shirts at the corner of Crenshaw and Slauson Boulevards, said the trees need to stay.

“Once the trees are removed… it’s going to be slow on business,” he said. “I believe that the trees should stay there because they are landmarks.” [Read more…]

StoryCorps records South LA’s diverse stories

StoryCorps kicked off its national mobile tour on Oct. 23 with mariachis, celebrities, and public officials at South L.A.’s California African American Museum. From now until Nov. 16, the StoryCorps mobile booth will be set up in front of the museum waiting to record and share the many stories upon which the vitality of South L.A. is built.

Actors Cheech Marin & Art Evans were in attendance

Actors Cheech Marin & Art Evans were in attendance

StoryCorps is no stranger to South L.A. This is its seventh year visiting greater Los Angeles, and its third time at the California African American Museum. It is also partnering with Pasadena-based radio station KPCC to broadcast some of the stories collected.

“We really love the partnership with CAAM and also KPCC,” Mobile Tour Manager Dina Zempsky said. “These organizations embrace our mission to retain diverse stories. We are back over and over again.” [Read more…]

Energy company addresses South LA oil field complaints

IMG_0093South Los Angeles residents have been complaining about headaches, dizziness, nose bleeds and other ailments which they are convinced are related to a nearby oil field. On Wednesday night, the South Coast Air Quality Management District held a town hall at St. Mary’s College to talk to residents. AQMD has maintained that samples taken from the oil field on Figueroa and 23rd Street, owned by Allenco Energy Company, do not show high levels of toxicity.

Reporter Emmanuel Martinez talked with Annenberg Radio News host Ryan Bouziane about the meeting and the residents’ complaints:

A garden grows at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church

USC students helped St. Mark’s Luthern Church on Vermont Avenue plant a garden.   Take a look:


Student turnover, not economy, frustrates 2-9 Café owner

imageWhen employees leave him high and dry on a busy Friday night, the restaurant manager of the 2-9 Cafe does not think twice about picking up the slack. He quickly clears a table, places an order for patrons, and delivers food to a group of hungry customers. For Garinn Morton, this is just one of the many obstacles he has overcome as the owner of this establishment.

The 2-9 Café sits at the intersection of the University of Southern California’s Greek Row, the University Village and one of the largest areas of off-campus student housing. To many, the location would seem like a jackpot for a restaurant owner, but the restaurant’s demographic has been its biggest worry.

“I don’t know if you’ve been here in the summertime, but it’s a ghost town around here,” said Morton.

Aside from holiday breaks, every year, Morton loses 20 percent of his business. That is because every year, and often every semester, students that live near the café move further away or graduate. Something as simple as a move to the other side of campus can keep a student from returning. According to Morton, graduates also steer clear of the restaurant because there is a stigma associated with visiting USC right after graduation.

“You can’t get caught up in making profit,” Morton said. “It’s a very simple game. You’re either not making money, you’re breaking even, or you’re making money.”

Morton plans to combat these problems by starting a “Trojan Country Card” for students. USC students would give their email address, local street address and year in school. In return, they would receive special deals for cardholders only. The cards would be scanned on all purchases at the 2-9 and it would help Morton track his regulars in order to entice them to come more often.

Parker Finley, a senior majoring in aerospace engineering, began frequenting the 2-9 when he lived nearby during his sophomore year. Once Finley turned 21, he said he went weekly. Now that he lives on the Row, he goes once every couple weeks. His reason for going is simple.

“It’s convenient and has cheap beer,” said Finley.

Morton bought the 2-9 in August 2011 as part of the T.K. Burgers group, which also owns six other restaurants in Orange County. T.K. wanted to expand their reach into Los Angeles. According to Morton, when scouting possible expansion sites, the group looks for buildings with a natural and hip feel, like the 2-9. Morton’s short-term goal is to just break even. Five years from now he hopes the location is still operating.

“Trying to find excuses isn’t going to bring one more person in here,” said Morton. “You just gotta find your best way to navigate through it.”