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Santa Rosa man found guilty of separate slayings in gang turf war

  • Maria Angel-Esparza places a childhood photo of her brother Juan Carlos Angel-Esparza, 20, at a makeshift memorial while her cousin Mariana Esparza sets down a candle near Kawana Elementary School in Santa Rosa, California on Sunday, January 9, 2011. Angel-Esparza was found Saturday evening outside of the school with stab wounds and died later at the hospital.(BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Jurors convicted a 20-year-old Santa Rosa man Friday of first-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter in two separate slayings tied to a gang turf war.

The verdicts came in the more than month-long trial of Raul Vega, charged in the 2010 drive-by shooting of Vallejo musician Dewey Tucker, 24, and last year's stabbing of Juan Carlos Angel-Esparza, 20, of Santa Rosa, on the grounds of Kawana Elementary School.

Jurors found Vega murdered Tucker when he drove alongside him on Interstate 80 and fired after mistaking him for a gang rival.

Also, they convicted Vega of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter in Angel-Esparza's slaying, accepting Vega's argument that the killing happened in self-defense.

Prosecutors, who were seeking two first-degree murder convictions, played Vega's taped confessions to police at trial.

Now the man portrayed as an up-and-comer in the Santa Rosa gang underworld faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole at an upcoming hearing.

Vega stared in silence and seemed to struggle for words when his lawyer asked if he would return to court Thursday to set a sentencing date.

The unrestrained man was led back to jail by deputies as Angel-Esparza's family members looked on. Maria Angel, who wore a T-shirt emblazoned with her dead brother's picture, declined to comment.

Jurors waiting to leave the courthouse also declined to comment. They deliberated about seven days, reaching verdicts on all but one allegation — that Angel-Esparza was killed for the benefit of a gang.

The specter of gang violence added to trial tensions.

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