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Four California teens charged in murder of China graduate student

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Four teenagers were charged with capital murder on Tuesday in the beating death of a graduate student from China not far from the University of Southern California campus in Los Angeles, prosecutors said.

Two of the suspects, 19-year-old Jonathan Del Carmen and Andrew Garcia, 18, could face the death penalty if they are found guilty at trial in the high-profile case.

The other two suspects, aged 16 and 17, were also charged with first-degree murder but will not face the death penalty if they are convicted because they are minors, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said.

All four suspects were expected to make an initial court appearance later on Tuesday.

The body of Xinran Ji, 24, an electrical engineering student who enrolled at USC in 2013, was discovered last Thursday morning at his apartment, a few blocks from where police said he had been beaten with a baseball bat some six hours earlier.

Ji was walking to his home near the campus around 12:45 a.m. when he was attacked in what authorities say was an attempted robbery. Ji eventually made it home, where he died of his wounds in the early morning hours.

Following the attack on Ji, prosecutors say, the four defendants drove to a popular beach area near Los Angeles International Airport, where they allegedly attempted to rob a man and woman they encountered there.

Garcia and the two minors are each charged with robbery, attempted robbery and assault with a deadly weapon in that incident.

Security was tightened in the neighborhoods surrounding USC following the murders of two graduate engineering students from China who were shot to death in the spring of 2012 as they sat in a parked car near the campus in what police said was a robbery attempt gone wrong.

Two men were arrested and charged with the double slaying, a crime that stunned the prestigious private university. One suspect pleaded guilty to two counts of murder earlier this year and was sentenced to life in prison. His co-defendant is still awaiting trial.

The University's Viterbi School of Engineering will host a memorial for Ji later in the week.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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