Prosecutors told jurors Monday that it's not a question of who killed two men in separate counties, one year apart.
It's a question of why, prosecutor Bob Waner said in his opening statement.
Raul Vega, 20 of Santa Rosa, has admitted the January 2010 drive-by shooting of Vallejo musician Dewey Tucker, 24, and last year's stabbing death of Santa Rosa resident Juan Carlos Angel-Esparza, 20.
What's not so obvious is the motive. Vega killed both men — one by mistake — during ongoing hostilities between warring Santa Rosa gangs, Waner said.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a whodunit," the prosecutor told the nine-woman, three-man panel. "What it is is murder."
Vega, who faces two life sentences if convicted, listened from the defense table alongside his lawyer, Kathy Hernandez. Hernandez did not make an opening statement but is expected to argue Vega acted in self-defense in Angel-Esparza's killing.
Vega is accused of killing Tucker during an attempt to exact revenge on a rival gang member.
Prosecutors said he and three others waited for the person outside a Vallejo apartment but shot Tucker — his neighbor — instead.
Vega is believed to be the one who pulled the trigger as Tucker drove to band practice along I-80 in Contra Costa County. Tucker played with singer Lauryn Hill.
"They got the wrong guy," Waner said. "He had nothing to do with gangs in Sonoma County. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
That case went unsolved for about a year until Vega was arrested in Angel-Esparza's killing. Vega is charged with stabbing Angel-Esparza in the heart during a knife fight at Kawana Springs Elementary School in southeast Santa Rosa.
Waner said Vega admitted both killings under questioning by police.
Evidence against Vega includes a tattoo he got after Tucker's death that shows a masked man holding a semi-automatic weapon — similar to the gun used in the drive-by shooting, Waner said.
Tucker's parents attended Monday's opening as did friends of Angel-Esparza. They listened to testimony from Sonoma County Sheriff's Det. Brandon Cutting, who helped unravel the case.
Shirley Tucker said her son's fianc?, Breana Whitney, will take the stand this week.
"Hopefully, we will finally have closure," Tucker said outside court.
You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.