Trial of Ethan Astaphan has possible start date Sept. 6

The trial of Juan Carlos Hernandez, El Camino College student, is set to begin Sept. 6.

Astaphan, 28, of San Gabriel waived his right to a speedy case in the People of California, vs. Ethan Kedar Astaphan. The hearing was held Tuesday, May 3 at Clara Shortridge Foltz Courthouse.

Unless there are additional postponements, the trial should start on or before Sept 6.

The hearing was presided by Lynn Hobbs, Department 117 Assistant District Attorney. For the people, Habib Balian, Los Angeles County Assistant District Attorney, and Larson Hahm (a Los Angeles County deputy public defense attorney) represented Astaphan.

Juan Carlos Hernandez, 21, a El Camino College engineering student, left Adams Boulevard on Sept. 22, 2020. in South Central Los Angeles. He was heading to his V.I.P. job. Collective marijuana dispensary at 8113 South Western Avenue. He never returned to home.

A preliminary hearing was held between Monday, February 28 and Wednesday, March 2, 2022 in front of Judge Michael E. Pastor, Department 41.

Witnesses testified during the hearing that Astpahan, who was Hernandez’ supervisor, along with the dispensary owner, Weijia Peng, killed Hernandez and dumped his body in a remote section of the Mojave Desert.

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Peng fled to Turkey, where he was detained and is currently fighting extradition. Peng’s then girlfriend, 22-year-old Sonita Heng, is accused of being an accomplice. As part of a plea bargain, she will testify against Astaphan.

At the preliminary hearing, Hernandez’ coworker, Daniel Romero, gave testimony regarding photos recovered from the dispensary’s surveillance camera.

Romero described the image as showing Astaphan on top of Hernandez, with his right arm wrapped around Hernandez’ neck.

In one of these photos, you can see Peng standing to the right of Astaphan and Hernandez.

Heng also testified at the preliminary hearing that Astaphan and Peng dragged Hernandez’ body from the back of the dispensary into an SUV and injected him with Ketamine as she drove to a desolate section of the Mojave Desert near Akton, California. This location, Heng said, was where Astaphan and Peng left Hernandez’ body.

Jennifer Hammer, a Los Angeles County Police Department detective in the Robbery-Homicide Division, testified in the preliminary hearing that she recovered cell phone records from Astaphan’s phone which was taken at his arrest on Nov. 19, 2020.

Hernandez’ body was found on Nov. 15, 2020, using cell tower evidence to track the route taken to the Mojave desert.

Before the start of the May 3 hearing, Hernandez’ mother, Yajaira Hernandez, expressed her exhaustion and frustration with a long process that makes her healing difficult.

“I think there’s no such thing as justice… We kid ourselves and say we’re fighting for justice, but in reality, we’re just fighting for these individuals to obtain punishment,” Yajaira Hernandez said. “In my case, so my son’s death wouldn’t be in vain, I would force them to take classes to understand how to become better, so they can realize firsthand the damage they did to us… and understand the severity. It wasn’t just that you murdered our loved ones. You altered our future forever.”

Yajaira also shared her perspective about crimes like this.

“I don’t think people understand that,” Yajaira Hernandez said. “They only think for themselves, because that’s what that moment was, that moment of rage where they are thinking of their needs, their wants, their desires and not thinking of how that action will impact not only that person, but their whole family and community.”

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