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A 17-year-old Kelseyville boy arrested in Monday?s shooting of an 18-year-old in Santa Rosa was formally charged as an adult in Sonoma County court Friday with murder and gang allegations that expose him to a life sentence without the chance of parole.

Marco Antonio Meza, his handcuffed wrists shackled to a chain around his waist, did not speak during his first court appearance since being arrested Wednesday in the slaying of Luis Suarez, 18, of Santa Rosa.

Police allege that Meza shot Suarez several times at about 9:40 p.m. Monday as Suarez walked on Grand Avenue near Pressley Avenue, a few blocks from his home.

Prosecutor Bob Waner declined to speak specifically about what investigators believe is the motive for the killing, but he said it was clearly gang-related.

?It is a Sure? killing a suspected Norte?,? he said. ?There is no doubt (Meza) is a Sure?.?

Waner said Suarez is believed to have been associated with the Norte? gang, which claims the South Park area of Santa Rosa around the slaying as its territory.

Prosecutors filed the case against Meza, who turned 17 in September, directly in Superior Court, bypassing any hearings in Juvenile Court.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Rob LaForge said state law mandates a direct filing to adult court because of the specific charge against Meza.

When a minor is alleged to have personally committed murder and a special circumstance is alleged that it was done for the benefit of a gang, the law requires the minor be charged as an adult, he said. The same special circumstance charge against an adult would trigger a possible death sentence, but minors are not eligible for the death penalty.

In court Friday, Meza delayed entering a plea until his next scheduled court date Friday. He was returned to Juvenile Halle where he remained held without bail.

Investigators said Suarez, a Ridgway High School student, had left a friend?s house and may have been walking home when a red car pulled up near him. Witnesses told police they saw the car slow and that one person got out before shots were fired. The person then got back in the car and it drove away.

The criminal charges indicate Meza is suspected of being Suarez?s shooter.

Meza bears several visible tattoos, often the markings of gang members. He sports several small markings on his face, including dots at the corners of each eye.

?We believe (Meza) was in South Park, driving or being driven, and was looking for trouble,? Waner said, adding that the killing may be connected to other recent gang activity.

Suarez, who lived three blocks from where he died, was shot several times, including in the torso, and died at the scene.

Suarez was about to celebrate his 19th birthday. He was described as a large young man who had a good sense of humor. Family and friends said he had difficulty staying clear of bad influences in the neighborhood.

He wasn?t officially classified by law enforcement as a gang member, police said. He didn?t have a criminal history, according to adult criminal records in Sonoma County. Juvenile records are sealed so it was not clear if he ran afoul of the law as a youth.

Jonathan Steele, who represented Meza at Friday?s hearing, described his client as a hard-working young man who held down at least two jobs, including one in agriculture with his father.

Five family members, including Meza's parents, attended Friday's hearing, but Steele advised them not to discuss the case with reporters.

Steele said he hasn?t seen any investigative documents supporting the allegation that Meza was a gang member.

The Mezas are long-time residents and Lake and Sonoma Counties, he said.

?The family is very supportive? (of Marco Meza), he said.

Another person arrested with Meza, Fernando Mendoza, 20, of Santa Rosa, remained in custody Friday on a parole violation. He hasn?t been charged in connection with the slaying, although investigators haven?t ruled out additional arrests.

Meza faces first-degree murder charges, which include allegations that the killing was done for the benefit of a gang. The gang allegation elevates the case to a potential life-without-parole sentence if he is convicted.

Other enhancements for having a gun, using a gun and a separate gang charge would add several decades to any sentence.

Suarez's death was the third homicide in Sonoma County this year, the first with gang connotations.

In January, Robert August Guess, 46, was bludgeoned to death in his Monte Rio home. Guess? partner, Bret Arnold Matz, has been charged with his death. Later that month, Jody Ira Reynolds, 43, was found shot dead in his Santa Rosa home. Five men face murder charges in that case.

A possible domestic violence killing in Santa Rosa Friday morning is the fourth homicide of the year.