Trial delayed for competency report

Updated: 2015-02-04 15:39

By CINDY LIU in Los Angeles(China Daily USA)

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A psychological evaluation on defendant Andrew Garcia in the fatal bludgeoning of a Chinese graduate student Ji Xinran was held Tuesday at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles.

Garcia's lawyer Stephanie Bedi was ill and absent from Tuesday's proceedings. Another defense attorney took her place and claimed that the 19-year-old Garcia is mentally incompetent

The attorney requested a long report to announce the result of the evaluation instead of a preliminary report for Tuesday. The court approved the request of the long report and scheduled its release for March 7, two days after the scheduled start of the trial.

The preliminary hearing in the case began in Superior Court in Los Angeles on Jan 13. Prosecutors made the case for trying Garcia and three co-defendants — Jonathan Del Carmen, 19, Alberto Ochoa, 18, and Alejandra Guerro, 16, on murder and other charges, including a robbery at Dockweiler State Beach a few hours after Ji Xinran's killing.

The judge ordered Tuesday's evaluation based on Garcia's outburst on Jan 13. Garcia was removed from the hearing and missed the next day's proceedings.

The next mental competence hearing was scheduled for 1:30 pm on March 17 at the mental health courthouse. The court assigned Doctor Ochoa to prepare the long report for Garcia.

Rose Tsai, the attorney representing Ji's family said to China Daily, "We have already pleaded for the death penalties for Andrew Garcia and Jonathan Del Carmen, the two adults among the four defendants. Although the defendant's attorney is trying to prove that Garcia is unable to control his behavior at the time of crime, we are skeptical (that) he really has psychological problems."

"The prosecutors told me that they did not rule out the possibility of death penalties on the accused," Tsai added.

Tsai told China Daily that she is uncertain if the sentence of the accused can be decided by the court still on schedule on March 5. She mentioned that John McKinney, the prosecuting attorney, indicated to her that the court might not be able to give out the results by then.

"We are fingers crossed, and we do all we can to push the case to close within this year," Tsai said.

"Using the excuse of a mental problem to defend is apparently their last weapon," said a professional from the county's Department of Mental Health, who declined to give his name. "However, since many criminals tend to develop mental problems after they commit crimes, it is really hard to say whether Garcia was mentally ill at the time of the crime or he became mentally unstable later. This is tricky. "

Judge James R. Brandlin postponed the arraignment until March 4 because the accused requested to be informed of the sentencing results before deciding to plea on a hearing on Jan 29.

Ji, a 24-year-old Chinese electrical engineering graduate student at the University of Southern California, was hit repeatedly with a bat during an attempted robbery around 12:45 am on July 24, as he walked to his off-campus apartment after a late-night study session.

A trail of blood ran for almost a quarter-mile from the spot where Ji was left in a heap on the pavement, to his apartment, where he was found dead hours later.

The killing renewed concerns about the safety of USC's Chinese students, who make up about 40 percent of the school's large foreign population. Two other Chinese graduate students were murdered off campus in 2012.The school and Los Angeles police beefed up patrols after those killings and added surveillance cameras.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.