OCEANSIDE — A teen convicted of the 2006 murder of Oceanside police Officer Dan Bessant was sentenced Jan. 12 by a Vista Superior Court judge to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Penifoti “PJ” Taeotui, 18, was just 16 years old when he and at least two other gang members fired on Bessant, another Oceanside officer and a ridealong witness. At the sentencing, Taeotui’s attorney, William Rumble, argued that his client should be granted the possibility of parole; however, Judge Ruston Maino denied the request.
Taeotui, a documented Oceanside gang member, was convicted Nov. 10 of first-degree murder and two counts of assault relating to the other officer and ridealong witness. Additionally, jurors found true the gang and weapon enhancements attached to the charges. Taeotui received an additional 56 years in prison for the enhancements and assault charges.
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. 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, which the prosecution believes was the motive for the gangland killing.
Prosecutors allege that Meki Gaono, 19, used a .22-caliber rifle with a scope to fatally shoot Bessant from more than 300 feet away, while Taeotui and another teen, Jose Compre, fired handguns — a .22-caliber revolver and a 9 mm semi-automatic, respectively — in the direction of the officers.
Charges against Compre were dropped following the trio’s preliminary hearing due to a lack of evidence. Meanwhile, jury selection for Gaono’s trial is scheduled to being Feb. 27.