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Ex-girlfriend testifies against one of two men charged in killings of USC graduate students

City News Service | 10/2/2013, 9 a.m.
University of Southern California

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — One of two men charged with the shooting deaths of a pair of USC graduate students from China admitted that he had been involved in a robbery in which someone may have been shot, a prosecution witness testified Tuesday.

Bryan Barnes’ ex-girlfriend, Latiana Collins, testified that Barnes told her last year that he had “robbed somebody” and that he “might have shot” someone, but did not give her any details.

Her testimony came about midway through a hearing being held to determine if there is enough evidence to require Barnes and co-defendant Javier Bolden, both 21, to stand trial on murder charges for the April 11, 2012, deaths of Ming Qu and Ying Wu.

Police determined that the cellular phones of Qu and Wu were missing after the two were shot while sitting inside Qu’s BMW, which was double-parked in the 2700 block of West Raymond Avenue — about three-quarters of a mile from the USC campus.

The murder charges include the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder during the commission of a robbery. Prosecutors will decide later whether to seek the death penalty against Barnes and Bolden, who are also charged with the attempted murder of a 20-year-old man during a December 2011 party in South Los Angeles.

Bolden additionally faces one count each of attempted murder and assault with a semiautomatic firearm for allegedly opening fire during another South Los Angeles party in February 2012, in which two people were injured.

Barnes’ former girlfriend testified that she took a black iPhone — which Barnes told her that he had found — to a cell phone store in Compton in an unsuccessful attempt to activate the phone and told the store’s proprietor that it wasn’t hers when he asked about buying it. She said that she gave Barnes the man’s name and address and that Barnes later told her he had sold the iPhone to the store’s proprietor.

The 20-year-old woman testified that Barnes told her after being released from jail following an arrest on an outstanding warrant that he had robbed somebody.

Under cross-examination, Barnes’ ex-girlfriend acknowledged that he did not tell her the date of the alleged robbery or describe the victims.

“His words were `I think I shot somebody,’? one of Bolden’s attorneys, Jana Seng, asked.

“Yes,” the witness responded.

“He never said he killed anybody, did he?,” the defense lawyer asked.

“No,” Collins answered.

She testified that it had never crossed her mind before that the phone might have been stolen.

Collins — who cried during some of her testimony — said she was afraid when she was being questioned by police last May that she was “never going to go home” and was going to spend the rest of her life in jail.

But she maintained that she was telling the truth to police and in court.

In other testimony, Los Angeles police Detective Vincent Carreon said Barnes told him in May 2012 that he had found the iPhone in the area of Imperial Highway and Crenshaw Boulevard.

During a search of the home where Barnes was arrested on May 18, 2012, police found a black and gray HTC phone inside a drawer in a bedroom, Carreon testified. Another Los Angeles police detective determined that the phone belonged to one of the victims — Qu — by examining a distinct code assigned to the phone, Carreon said.

Another Los Angeles police detective, Robert Lait, testified that one of his colleagues determined that a distinct code assigned to the black iPhone that had been sold to the storekeeper in Compton matched that of one of the victims.

During a May 2012 wiretapped call of a phone belonging to Barnes, a male was heard telling a female that he was getting ready to sell his phone in Compton, Lait testified Monday. The owner of that store told police he bought a black iPhone for $200 from a man he knew only as “B.J.” after he was contacted by the man’s girlfriend about the sale of the phone, according to the detective.

The hearing is expected to continue through Thursday in the courtroom of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephen Marcus.

Terri Vermeulen Keith | City News Service