ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images
Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Richard French holds a poster offering a USD $125,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the murder of Ming Qu (L) and Ying Wu (R), two University of Southern California (USC) students from China, during a news conference April 13, 2012 in the Los Angeles street where the murders occurred.
Ming Qu and Ying Wu had recently shared the news they were in love, their families said, when they were shot to death during a botched robbery on a rainy April night in 2012.
On Wednesday, Bryan Barnes, 21, pleaded guilty to both murders, as well as special circumstances that will land him in prison for the rest of his life. Barnes received two consecutive terms of life in prison without parole, as well as two additional terms of 25 years to life in prison. By pleading, Barnes avoids the possibility of the death penalty.
Family members of both victims travelled from China for Wednesday's court date. Several cried throughout the proceedings. Both victims' fathers read statements to the court, both asking for Barnes to be executed for the murders.
"In China, where I come from, it is only matter of course that a killer pays a life for a life," said Xi Ying Wu.
Asked by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephen Marcus if the families understood Barnes would not be sentenced to death, Wan Zi Qu said he did.
"We understand, but we say that to let out our anger," Qu said.
Qu said his son, 23 at the time of his death, had called him days before the murders to tell him he was in love.
"I was so excited I couldn’t sleep for three straight nights," Qu said, addressing Barnes. "But in only nine days, our joy had turned to mourning, because you killed them in cold blood."
Qu said the family held a posthumous ceremony for the couple.
"All we could do was give our blessings to them in heaven," Qu said. "What a tragic end to a life."
Barnes, dressed in a blue button-down shirt and glasses, hung his head and faced forward as the men spoke behind him.
Ming Qu and Ying Wu were both only children, both nearing graduation from USC with degrees in electrical engineering. Ying Wu's father Xi Ying Wu said his daughter already had a ticket to return home when she died. Both families said they had invested everything in their children.
"I no longer have the privilege of being called a dad," Wu said. "I no longer have the chance to spoil her one more time. I can’t touch her, hear her voice. The only thing I can do is hold her picture tight and talk to her."
Judge Marcus said he believes Barnes "will be haunted by [the two deaths] and the statements made by the parents in court."
"This was a horrific tragedy," he said. "It doesn't even begin to describe it when one says it was senseless and happened for no reason."
A second man accused in the murders, Javier Bolden, has pleaded not guilty and will next appear in court in March.
In exchange for Barnes' plea in the murders, prosecutors dropped an unrelated murder charge against him in the death of Timothy Hall.