Sitting at a coffee shop near the courthouse, Phillips says he's relieved that Jacobo Ruelas, now 35, received life without parole for his role in the carjacking and stabbing that took Kris's life.

Earlier this year, Ruelas' younger brother Angel Ruelas was also given the ultimate sentence short of the death penalty. The brothers were 18 and 17 years old at the time of the 1997 slaying that horrified Monterey Peninsula residents.

And yet, Phillips said, he knows there's more to "justice served" than a guilty verdict and a prison term.

"Locking him up and throwing away the key makes me feel better," he said, "but it doesn't solve the problem."

For deeper answers, he's looking to restorative justice, a philosophy and practice that focuses not on what law was broken but on what harm was done and how it can be eased.

In practical terms, it means sitting down with the Ruelases and having a difficult conversation.

"I have a lot of questions about what happened that night that only they can answer," he said.

Phillips almost had that chance last year, when Angel Ruelas offered to meet with him after abruptly entering a guilty plea. But the plan fell through when Angel changed his mind and asked for a quick sentencing.

Even after that disappointment, Phillips said he would still sit down with either brother.

Phillips did get to speak a few weeks ago with another man who was present the night his brother was killed, a former friend of the Ruelas brothers who became a confidential witness in the case.

"I found out a bunch of things I personally needed to know," Phillips said afterward. The man was very remorseful, he said, though "not a very good guy by any means."
 
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