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Man sentenced to 40 years to life in state prison for fatal stabbing of Camp Pendleton Marine

Jose Oscar Esqueda is convicted for first-degree murder and sentenced to 40 years to life in state prison
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A San Diego County Superior Court judge sentenced a man convicted of first-degree murder to 40 years to life in state prison for fatally stabbing a Camp Pendleton Marine in 2017 at the Gaslamp Quarter of Downtown San Diego.

Prosecutors say that Jose Oscar Esqueda and co-defendant Jeff Shai Holiday cased the downtown area on Dec. 29, 2017, for potential victims at around 1 a.m. before settling on Christopher De Herrea, who was alone on the corner of Island and Sixth avenues. 

Surveillance footage shows Esqueda and De Herrea exchanging words before Holiday punched him in the head from behind Four of De Herrera's fellow Marines witnessed the altercation and ran over to intervene, which led to the fatal stabbing of 21-year-old Ryan Harris. Another Marine, Andrew Haulman, suffered stab wounds to his chest and back during the altercation with Esqueda. 

In May, Holiday was sentenced to 19 years in state prison for involuntary manslaughter and other charges.

Esqueda's defense attorney, Zaki Zahawi said De Herrera asked his client “Where you from?'' a common gang challenge that is often taken as a serious threat and typically precedes violence. Zahawi said Esqueda tried to run once the other marines joined in. Esqueda claimed that Haulman grabbed him and began throwing punches. Zahawi said that led Esqueda to use a knife to lawfully defend himself. 

San Diego Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Fraser rejected the alleged gang-related motivation during a sentencing hearing and said the defendants were “solely responsible'' for what happened.

Prosecutors said the men were convicted of robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery earlier that year in Pacific Beach ad Chula Vista. The pair were found guilty of stealing a bicycle from a couple in Pacific Beach on April 15 and accosting shoppers on April 29 at the Chula Vista mall.