Vutha Au, the 24-year-old Santa Rosa man shot dead in a beach parking lot near Jenner, was in the state's witness protection program and was killed to keep him from testifying, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Four reputed gang members could face the death penalty if they are convicted of killing Au, whose younger brother is the victim in a kidnapping case headed to trial in Sonoma County Superior Court.
Preston Khaoone, 22, and brothers David Prak, 19, and Sarith Prak, 21, all appeared Tuesday in Sonoma County court with their wrists shackled to their waists. The fourth suspect, Quentin Russell, 24, was arraigned later in the jail in a hearing closed to the public.
Authorities said the four men surprised Au late Saturday or early Sunday, forced him into their car and drove him to Blind Beach's parking lot, where he was taken from the car and shot nine times.
"He was forcibly kidnapped in Santa Rosa and taken out there and killed," Sheriff's Lt. Rob Giordano said.
District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua confirmed that Au was receiving witness protection and said he shouldn't have been in Santa Rosa.
"He was in the California Witness Relocation and Assistance program and agreed to remain out of the area," Passalacqua said in a statement Tuesday evening.
Terry Au, the victim in the kidnap case, had testified in court last fall that he and unspecified family members were relocated by authorities for their safety. Au also acknowledged he had sold drugs on behalf of Khaoone's brothers, two of whom are defendants in the kidnap case.
Authorities previously had declined to say whether Vutha Au was one of the family members receiving protection.
Gun not linked to case