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Forensic evidence key in USC grad student killings arrests

May 18, 2012 | 10:35 pm

Two people talk with a Los Angeles police officer outside an apartment building in the 1200 block of West 91st Street near where one suspect was arrested.
LAPD officials said forensic evidence was key in the arrests of two men in the slayings of two USC graduate students.

"Forensic evidence recovered at the scene linked them to two other attempted homicides," Police Chief Charlie Beck said at a news conference.

He did not provide details about those other cases or say what the evidence was.

“I am proud of my investigators who worked tirelessly on this case,” Beck said later in a statement released by the LAPD.  “This was a case that reverberated throughout Los Angeles as well as internationally; this was a case that needed to be solved.”

Police identified the suspects as Bryan Barnes, 20, of Los Angeles and Javier Bolden, 19. They were expected to be booked into the 77th Street Division jail Friday night and held without bail.

Officials said they believe robbery was the motive behind the killings.

Police said the pair do not have an extensive criminal record and are not recorded as gang members. But officials said they might have gang affiliations.

The arrests occurred Friday afternoon.

Dozens of detectives, plainclothes officers and members of the Police Department's SWAT unit descended on the 1200 block of 91st Street in South Los Angeles, residents said. They arrived suddenly but discreetly, disrupting a kids' game of kickball in the street and an ice cream truck that was trolling down the block, said a woman who declined to give her name.

"It was quiet, calm. We thought at first they were a crew filming 'Southland,' " the woman said, referring to the television drama about L.A. cops. She said she watched the operation unfold from her lawn.

SWAT officers entered the bright blue two-story house, said the woman. They emerged soon after with a man in handcuffs and handed him off to other officers who led him to a waiting car, the woman said.

The woman, who said she has lived on the block for years, said she had never before seen the man. Also taken into custody at the house was a 19-year-old woman who lives in one of the nearby apartments, the neighbor said.

A police source who requested anonymity because the investigation is ongoing said ballistics tests on shell casings recovered at the scene of the killings show they were fired from the same gun used in two other shootings.

Detectives working on the two previous shootings had followed some "very tenuous" leads that led them to believe Barnes might have been involved, the source said.

The source said police knew Barnes had been in possession of something that "could very readily be tied to one of the victims."

Bolden was taken into custody in Victorville a few hours after Barnes, police sources said. Bolden is accused of being present during the robbery. Police are planning to seek murder charges against both men, a source said.

Electrical engineering students Ming Qu and Ying Wu were sitting in a 2003 BMW about 1 a.m. April 11 when a gunman approached and shot two or three times into the driver's side. The two had been chatting, with the car double parked.

Property belonging to the two students was missing, leading investigators to suspect that robbery was the motive for the crime. Three neighbors heard the gunshots and called 911. Shortly after the shooting, a witness saw a person in dark clothing running from the scene, according to Deputy Chief Pat Gannon.

Gannon said a dark-colored car, possibly an American model, pulled away right after the shots were fired. After reviewing surveillance footage from video cameras in the area, the LAPD has identified 75 vehicles that fit the description of the dark car, and Gannon said detectives were tracking down the ownership of each of the vehicles.

The students had been studying before the attack. Qu had driven Wu to the house, where she was renting a room. He parked in front of the home, while Wu went inside briefly to change her clothes. She went back outside, and the two continued talking in the car.

After the shooting, Qu attempted to run for help but collapsed on a nearby porch with a gunshot wound to the head, Gannon said. Wu was found slumped over inside the vehicle.

The students' parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university this week, saying the school misled them when it claimed that it ranks among the safest in the nation.

USC officials said they would seek to have the case dismissed. The university's attorney, Debra Wong Yang, said that the university security net can stretch only so far and that the killings occurred three-quarters of a mile from campus in the third tier of security.

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-- Lisa Girion, Joel Rubin and Richard Winton

Photo: Two people talk with a Los Angeles police officer outside an apartment building in the 1200 block of West 91st Street near where one suspect was arrested. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

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