When Maria Angel thinks about the last time she saw her younger brother, it brings tears to her eyes.
It was the night of Jan. 8, and Juan Carlos Angel-Esparza, 20, was lying mortally wounded on the grounds of Kawana Elementary School in southeast Santa Rosa.
He had just been stabbed in a gang fight and the 22-year-old sister rushed from the apartment she shared with him nearby to see what happened.
“I was there before the ambulance arrived,” said Angel, tearing up. “Somebody called me. I ran over. He couldn't really talk,” she said Monday, after attending a hearing at the Sonoma County courthouse.
Her brother later died from a direct stab wound to the heart. His accused killer, Raul Vega, 19, also of Santa Rosa, was arrested two days later and charged with first-degree murder.
On Monday, a shackled Vega was in court, along with three co-defendants in a separate gang-related slaying in Contra Costa County.
Angel and her mother wore T-shirts with Angel-Esparaza's image on them and waited for any update from prosecutors.
A preliminary hearing was expected to be set in a Tuesday hearing, for sometime in April.
“He deserves whatever punishment possible that he can get,” Angel said of Vega.
Police said the Kawana killing arose from a growing rivalry between subsets of the same sureno gang feuding over the Moraga Drive territory.
Witnesses said Vega and Angel-Esparza, both gang members, squared off near the baseball fields sometime around nightfall as three others stood by. They scattered at the sound of sirens. Police arrived to find Angel-Esparaza unresponsive. Two knives were recovered.
The killing raised concern in the neighborhood about growing violence. A community meeting brought neighbors, police and school officials together.
In the wake of the killing, Vega was charged with being the shooter in a Jan. 12, 2010 killing of Vallejo musician Dewey Tucker, 24. Authorities said Vega mistook him for another gang rival.