Sonoma County prosecutors said Monday they will not seek the death penalty against a 19-year-old Santa Rosa man accused of two gang killings, citing his youth and lack of a criminal record.
Raul Vega is charged with the stabbing death of Juan Carlos Angel-Esparza, 20, of Santa Rosa on the grounds of Kawana Elementary School on Jan. 8.
Vega has also been identified as the suspected shooter in a Jan. 12, 2010 Contra Costa County freeway shooting of Vallejo musician Dewey Tucker, 24. Prosecutors said Vega and three co-defendants mistook Tucker for a gang rival. Tucker was a bassist for Grammy Award winning performer Lauryn Hill.
“We’re not trying to give any of these guys a merit badge, but the decision has been made that we are not going to seek the sanction of death,” prosecutor Bob Waner said outside a court hearing Monday morning.
Vega appeared in court briefly alongside Christopher Mancinas, 30, Hector Barragan, 29, and Javier Carreon-Lopez, 20, all of Santa Rosa. The four now face a maximum punishment of life in prison without parole.
Vega asked Judge Arthur Wick to replace his court-appointed lawyer, Kathy Hernandez. He set a hearing for Wednesday on the matter.
Relatives of Angel-Esparza wore T-shirts displaying his picture. His girlfriend and mother to his young son, Elisha Donahue, said Vega appeared “cocky” in court.
“It’s just sickening,” she said. “Last time he was smirking.”
Prosecutors have said Vega is a participant in the sureno street gang. A search showed no significant adult criminal record. Any offenses committed while he was a minor would be sealed.
Of the other defendants, only Mancinas has felony convictions — one for assault and another for theft. Also, he has a pending felony drugs charge.
In letters dated Friday, District Attorney Jill Ravitch acknowledged some of the defendants’ gang backgrounds but said a decision was reached to not seek the ultimate punishment.