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Trial opens for Santa Rosa man accused in two murders

  • Police investigate in the area surrounding Kawana Elementary School on Sunday where Juan Carlos Angel-Esparza, 20, was stabbed Saturday evening. Photo taken in Santa Rosa, California on Sunday, January 9, 2011.(BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

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."

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