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2 Charged in Connection to Murder of Calif. College Student Whose Body Was Found in the Mojave Desert

People logo People 11/25/2020 Gabrielle Chung
a man smiling for the camera: gofundme Juan Carlos Hernández © Provided by People gofundme Juan Carlos Hernández

Two people have been charged in connection to the murder of Juan Carlos Hernández, a 21-year-old college student from California whose body was discovered in the Mojave Desert last week, according to authorities.

Ethan Kedar Astaphan, 27, is currently facing one count of murder, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office announced in a press release on Monday.

Astaphan's defendant, 20-year-old Sonita Heng, has been charged with one count of accessory after the fact, officials said.

The two were arrested under suspicion of murder on Nov. 19, four days after investigators found Hernández's remains in a shallow grave dug off Interstate 15 in San Bernardino County, PEOPLE previously reported.

RELATED: Missing Calif. College Student Is Found Dead in Shallow Grave, and 2 Suspects Have Been Arrested

Hernández, a student at El Camino College, was reported missing by family on the night of Sept. 22. He was last seen leaving his job at a marijuana dispensary in South Los Angeles earlier that night and had sent his mother a text saying he'd be home soon, according to the Los Angeles Times.

a man smiling for the camera: Juan Carlos Hernández © gofundme Juan Carlos Hernández

On Sept. 24, authorities found his car about two miles from his job.

Over the next eight weeks, Hernández's family worked hard to raise awareness for their missing loved one, handing out fliers, picketing outside police headquarters demanding action and asking local officials to issue a reward.

"This isn't the outcome we ever wanted or thought we'd get," Hernández's mother, Yajaira Hernández, told the Times on Thursday. "But I still feel blessed that we found his body."

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GoFundMe started to help the family with expenses has raised $26,418 of its $30,000 goal as of Tuesday.

Astaphan and Heng are being held on a $10 million bond, according to online jail records. It is unclear if they have obtained legal representation who can speak on their behalf or if they entered a plea at this time.

Both are due in court on Dec. 1.

If convicted as charged, Astaphan faces a possible maximum sentence of 25 years to life in state prison. Meanwhile, Heng faces a three-year prison sentence.


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