LOS ANGELES >> Two men pleaded not guilty Wednesday to killing a pair of Chinese graduate students who were gunned down in a car near the University of Southern California.
The defendants were chastised by the judge at one point for smiling and talking to each other during the hearing.
The long-delayed arraignment of Bryan Barnes, 20, Javier Bolden, 19, cleared the way for further proceedings in the murder case that drew international attention.
Prosecutors haven’t decided whether to seek the death penalty.
The men are charged with the April 11 shooting of engineering students Ming Qu and Ying Wu in a car a mile from campus.
Prosecutors believe the killings took place during a robbery.
Barnes and Bolden also are charged with attempted murder in unrelated attacks.
A friend of Wu and Qu who attended the hearing told reporters that she had some sympathy for the defendants’ families.
“I also feel sad for them ’cause they also kind of lost their son. … It’s going to be sad for four families,” Julia Liu said.
The families of the two slain students have filed a wrongful death suit against USC.
Public defenders representing the two men sought a gag order, complaining that police and the district attorney’s office have been releasing too much information about the case. The judge did not address the matter.
A Sept. 20 hearing was set to schedule a preliminary hearing.