Cannabis dispensary owner and manager convicted of murdering college student co-worker by ketamine injection, dumping body in desert

Ethan Kedar Astaphan and Weijia Peng were found guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of Juan Hernandez, pictured. (Photos from the family’s Help Me Find Juan website)

The owner and manager of an unlicensed California marijuana dispensary were convicted of murdering their college student co-worker with a ketamine injection and dumping his body in the desert because they thought he stole money and pot.

Ethan Kedar Astaphan, 30, and Weijia “James” Peng, 34, were found guilty in a Los Angeles courtroom of first-degree murder in the killing of Juan Carlos Hernandez, whose body was discovered in a shallow grave near Barstow, California, in 2020.

“I’m sad my son is not coming back,” Hernandez said outside after court, the Los Angeles Daily News reported. “I’m glad they got caught, and they’ll be paying for what they did. Now we’re just figuring out what’s next and how to heal.”

Astaphan’s attorney, Larson Hahm, argued for a second-degree murder conviction, saying the killing wasn’t preplanned, the Los Angeles Daily News reported.

Astaphan, the manager at the unlicensed and now dismantled VIP Collective, and Peng, the owner, killed Hernandez on Sept. 22, 2020, taking him down in the dispensary and injecting him with a fatal dose of ketamine before driving to the desert, along with Peng’s girlfriend, Sonita Heng, 23, and dumping his body.

Citing texts, prosecutors said the defendants first suspected an employee had been stealing before singling out Hernandez and then wanted to make an example of him. Peng wanted Hernandez “crippled for life,” according to the Daily News, reporting details revealed during opening statements.

Hernandez’s family reported him missing after he didn’t return home from work. His car was found abandoned over 28 hours later, a few miles from where he worked.

His body was found on Nov. 15 in a shallow grave off Interstate 15 in a remote area north of Barstow, about 140 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles.

Days later, Astaphan and Heng were arrested. Peng fled to Turkey, where he was arrested and extradited to LA in 2022.

Astaphan and Peng are set to be sentenced on April 25. Heng made a plea deal for 112 days in county jail after being charged with a count of accessory after the fact, the LA Daily News reported. Heng’s sentencing is scheduled for March 7.

Source – Law & Crime

Marijuana dispensary owner and manager convicted of murdering college student co-worker by ketamine injection, dumping body in desert

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