Prosecutors won't seek the death penalty against four men accused of killing a Santa Rosa drug dealer last fall while robbing him of 20 pounds of marijuana.
District Attorney Jill Ravitch said she decided to pursue life without parole after reviewing the the evidence in Oct. 6 slaying of Jose Manuel DeJesus, 33.
The decision was announced in Dec. 30 letters to accused gunman Fernando Lopez-Castillo, 25; his brother Juan Ramon Lopez-Castillo, 28; Alberto Barraza-Lopez, 33; and Jose Carraballo Mejiias, 54.
All are charged with murder in the death of DeJesus outside a Todd Road butcher shop in the course of a robbery — a special allegation that exposes the men to a possible death sentence.
Ravitch said she consulted prosecutor Juliette Olson, office supervisors and top investigators in reaching the decision. She did not elaborate on her reasons but the death penalty usually is reserved for what prosecutors call "the worst of the worst."
"The evidence developed thus far suggests that this was clearly a conspiracy to rob a drug dealer and that firearms were procured for that purpose," Ravitch said in one of the letters.
The defendants and a fifth person, Anna Velasquez, who is charged with being an accessory, appeared in court Tuesday to set a preliminary hearing date.
However, prosecutors and defense attorneys argued instead over the release of translated police interviews. Lawyers for the defendants said they could not prepare for cross-examination without a translation from Spanish to English.
Olson said she didn't believe the release was required and requested a hearing date. She said the Sheriff's Office was working on the translation but wouldn't be finished soon.
Defense attorneys accused Olson of trying to ram the case through in violation of due process rights.
"This is a special circumstances homicide case," said defense attorney Ande Thomas. "I fail to see what the rush is."
Judge Dana Simonds appeared to side with the defense. She ordered both sides to return Jan. 12 to check the progress of the translation.
Investigators believe the defendants set up a purchase in front of Carniceria Contreras with the goal of stealing marijuana from DeJesus.
His body was discovered in his car with a single gunshot wound in the head. No marijuana was found.
A witness description of a black sedan led detectives to San Mateo, where two of the defendants were arrested. The man accused of firing the weapon was arrested at a Hayward hotel and the fourth man was held after a traffic stop in Santa Rosa.