Trial in murder of El Camino student postponed until 2023

A 29-year-old man entered court in a white tee shirt with a yellow collar under blue cotton scrubs and slip-on sneakers issued by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

His head was clean-shaven and his face and scalp had a clear and even complexion framed by a full beard.

As the deputy motioned for him to sit, his shoulders slumped forward as his wrists remained handcuffed behind his back.

Ethan Kedar Astaphan is on trial as one of three defendants accused in the alleged murder of El Camino College engineering student Juan Carlos Hernandez.

Astaphan’s trial was postponed again from its initial start date of Sept. 6 and will now start on or before Feb. 28, 2023, unless Astaphan requests another postponement.

On Tuesday, Sept. 27 at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles, Larson Hahm, the Los Angeles County deputy public defender representing Astaphan, requested more time for the defense to prepare.

Astaphan again waived his rights to start trial and agreed to the postponement of the trial into the new year.

On May 8, Astaphan’s trial was scheduled to start on or before October 27. Under both federal and state law, defendants have a right to a speedy trial.

Before Tuesday’s hearing, Astaphan raised concerns with his attorney that trips to court for procedural matters burden defendants in Los Angeles County Jail custody.

On behalf of Astaphan, Hahm requested that future procedural hearings be attended by counsel only. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lynne M. Hobbs ordered Hahm to fill out a waiver that relinquishes Astaphan’s right to be present during the trial, which he signed.

The next pre-trial hearing is scheduled for November 15, at which Astaphan’s attendance will not be required.

On Sept. 22, 2020, Hernandez left from his home on Adams Blvd. in South Central Los Angeles to drive to his job at the V.I.P. Collective marijuana dispensary at 8113 South Western Avenue.

Hernandez never returned home that night. His decomposed body was found on Nov. 15, 2020, in a remote section of the Mojave desert.

Astaphan worked at the unlicensed dispensary as a manager along with the dispensary owner Weijia Peng. Both Astaphan and Peng have been accused of murdering Hernandez, hiding his body and burning his glasses and other belongings.

A third defendant, Peng’s then-girlfriend Sonita Heng, was charged as an accomplice and has negotiated a plea deal in exchange for her testimony against Astaphan and Peng.

On Tuesday, in the hallway outside court, Hahm declined to comment on the case and denied The Union staff an opportunity to interview Astaphan.

When asked about an update on Peng’s case, Hahm said that he was still hopeful that the two defendants would be tried together, but that Peng is still detained in Turkey.

Not long after Hernandez’ death, Peng fled to Turkey where he has since been detained and is fighting extradition to Los Angeles.

Responding to news of another postponement of Astaphan’s trial, the victim’s mother, Yajaira Hernandez, said, “I figured that much because the detectives didn’t call me. I wish they would start already, but I understand it’s the process.”


Editor’s Note: Updated story for clarity and grammar corrections on Sept. 29, 2022 at 1:37 a.m.