Defense counters prosecutors with DNA expert in gang shooting

OCEANSIDE — The defense rested its case Oct. 29 in the Penifoti Taeotui trial, but not before introducing their theory as to how the reputed gang member’s DNA ended up on two firearms used in the slaying of an Oceanside police officer without the young man actually handling the weapons.
Marc Taylor, forensic criminalist, testified that Taeotui’s DNA, as well as that of three other gang members, could have been transferred from the beer cans and cigarettes found at the crime scene to the .22-caliber revolver and .22-caliber rifle with scope.
With the amount of DNA found on the beer cans and cigarettes, Taylor said if one of the young men got the DNA on their hand when they touched the aforementioned items, then the transfer to the weapons could have “easily” occurred.
Officer Dan Bessant, 25, was gunned down on the evening of Dec. 20, 2006, during a traffic stop at Arthur Avenue and Gold Drive in the “back gate” area of Oceanside. He was shot once in his left armpit just above his protective vest. In the months prior to his death, Bessant, a father and husband, had been working on a program with community activists to put an end to gang violence in the Mesa Margarita neighborhood, according to authorities.
Witnesses testified Taeotui, 18, admitted that he and two other gang members, Meki Gaono and Jose Compre, fired at Bessant. Taeotui and Gaono are both charged with the murder of Bessant, as well as two counts of assault relating to another Oceanside police officer and a ridealong witness who were also on the scene. Gaono’s trial is scheduled for Jan. 12, 2009.
The prosecution alleges Gaono, 19, used a .22-caliber rifle with a scope to fatally shoot Bessant from more than 300 feet away, while Taeotui and Compre fired handguns — a .22-caliber revolver and a 9 mm semi-automatic, respectively — in the direction of the officers.
Compre, 17, had the murder and assault charges against him dropped in March after a judge found a lack of evidence to put the teen in front of his residence at 622 Arthur Avenue when the shooting occurred.
If convicted of the murder charge, the prosecution won’t be able to seek the death penalty since both defendants were underage at the time of the murder. Taeotui and Gaono remain in custody on $5 million bail.

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