Suspect in fatal USC attack entered country illegally, feds say

A 19-year-old charged with murder in connection with last week's fatal assault on a USC graduate student told immigration officials that he entered the country illegally about seven years ago, a federal official said.

The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said Jonathan DelCarmen made the comments during an interview at a Los Angeles County jail where he is being held in connection with the death of Xinran Ji, 24.

A spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed that an immigration detainer had been placed against DelCarmen. In a statement, spokeswoman Virginia Kice said ICE officials contacted DelCarmen at the jail Wednesday.

"ICE has lodged an immigration detainer against Mr. DelCarmen requesting that the Sheriff's Department turn him over to ICE for possible follow-up immigration enforcement action if and when he is released from local custody," Kice said.

There were no indications that DelCarmen had prior enforcement actions with the Department of Homeland Security, she added.

DelCarmen is one of four teenagers charged with capital murder in the July 24 assault that killed Ji, an engineering graduate student from China. Police said Ji was walking home from a study group about 12:45 a.m. when he was attacked near campus, just blocks away from his apartment.

Police and prosecutors say Ji was beaten with a bat and suffered a head injury. Detectives said they believe he may have tried to get away from his attackers, only to be beaten a second time, according to law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation.

Despite his injury, Ji managed to make it home to his apartment, where, police said, a roommate found his body later that morning.

DelCarmen and three others -- identified as Andrew Garcia, 18; Alberto Ochoa, 17; and Alejandra Guerrero, 16 -- were charged Tuesday in connection with Ji's death. The murder charge carries a special circumstance allegation that Ji was killed during an attempted robbery, allowing prosecutors the option of seeking the death penalty against DelCarmen and Garcia.

Because of their ages, Ochoa and Guerrero will not face the death penalty, but prosecutors said they could be sentenced to life in prison without parole if convicted. California law allows prosecutors the discretion in certain crimes -- including murder -- to charge a minor as an adult. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, has ruled that minors are not eligible for capital punishment.

The Times generally does not name juvenile suspects unless they are charged as an adult, as they have been in this case.

After attacking Ji near campus, prosecutors say, the suspects drove to Dockweiler State Beach, where Garcia, Ochoa and Guerrero approached a man and a woman. Officials said the three robbed the woman, but the man escaped and flagged down police officers who were patrolling the area.

A criminal complaint alleges that the three again used a bat at the beach, and that Ochoa and Guerrero also used a knife.

Garcia, Ochoa and Guerrero were charged with second-degree robbery, attempted second-degree robbery and assault with a deadly weapon in connection with that incident.

The attack on Ji comes two years after two USC graduate students -- also from China -- were shot and killed during a botched robbery near campus.

In a statement issued through a family friend, Ji's parents said they were "deeply concerned about other students at USC." They commended police for the arrests but said they were "extremely angry about this horrific act of violence."

"We do not want to see another incident like this," Songbo Ji and Jinhui Du said in a statement written in Chinese. "No parents should have to bear this pain."

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