Gabino Lopez Santiago refused to join a marijuana-growing venture in the moments before he ran from a group of men and was shot and killed on a rural ranch in the hills edging Sonoma County's Dry Creek Valley.
He had been partying with his brother-in-law who later claimed that he, too, had feared for his life when he was tasked with dumping Santiago's body 10 miles away.
The new allegations surrounding the Oct. 16 shooting were revealed in court documents and interviews, illuminating an argument fueled by alcohol and centered around the lucrative business of growing pot in gardens secreted away on sprawling properties.
But it also shows the real threat of violence in Wine Country, where the same soil that produces some of the world's most prized vineyards provides a fertile ground for marijuana, now fueled by confusing laws, regulations and enforcement.
As prosecutors prepare to try three men linked to Santiago's death, including his brother-in-law Ramon Velasco Lopez, the debate is growing over how to stem marijuana-related violence in Wine Country.
In Sonoma County, politicians want to provide for the distribution of medical marijuana but want stricter rules for dispensaries and producers and safety in both urban and rural areas.
Along Highway 101, law enforcement authorities target vehicles delivering marijuana, legally produced or not, from northern counties to the Bay Area.
Federal authorities, emboldened by federal laws prohibiting the use and sale of marijuana, ignore state medical marijuana laws and raid North Coast pot growers.
"How do you go back?" Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy John Blenker said of the door to legal marijuana production and sale cracked open by medicinal cannabis laws. "There's no going back."
Blenker patrols about 475 square miles of northern Sonoma County that span from the coast to the Geysers. The area is mostly agriculture and undeveloped forest of the coastal mountain range.
He's made it a priority to snoop out illicit pot growers along the roads he patrols in his district, which includes much of Sonoma County's prized vineyards and forests, rugged lands that have long attracted clandestine marijuana growers.
In October, he pulled over a man in a vehicle for a traffic violation on a remote road in Franz Valley. He noticed more than a dozen boxes of turkey bags — the kind often used to package processed marijuana — on the passenger seat as he checked the man's vehicle registration.
"I said, &‘Do you bake turkeys?' He didn't know what I was talking about,'" Blenker said.
On a recent day as Blenker patrolled West Dry Creek Road the vines had turned a kaleidoscope of green, gold and red in rows. Blenker powered down the window of his cruiser as he navigated a sharp turn onto Chemise Road, a private dirt road that leads to the driveway where Santiago was shot.
"Get a whiff of that," he said.
The unmistakable scent of marijuana flooded the vehicle and was gone moments later, replaced by the sharp and unmistakable odor of newly crushed grapes.
Both harvests leave clues for deputies to puzzle: increased traffic, vehicles parked off the side of the road, supplies like water bottles tucked behind bushes.
"With crush going on, how can you tell what's narcotic activity from grape activity?" Blenker said.
Santiago had been tending olive trees in the hours before he was killed at a ranch off Chemise Road, Sonoma County Sheriff's Sgt. Carlos Basurto said.