DNA links gang members to murder weapon

OCEANSIDE — Meki Gaono is a possible contributor to DNA found on various parts of the weapon prosecutors believe was used in the shooting of Oceanside police Officer Dan Bessant, a forensic expert testified March 20.
However, the DNA of several of his associates could also be included in the DNA sample, which was taken from the stock, scope and a golf club cover placed over the butt end of the .22 caliber rifle.
Penifoti Taeotui, Jose Compre, Randy Seau and Sala Toluao are also possible contributors to the DNA found on the rifle, testified Michelle Hassler, a criminalist with the San Diego Sheriff’s crime lab.
When testing DNA for a criminal case, Hassler said 15 segment points in the biological matter are compared. However, she said it’s not always possible to compare all these segments due to the quality of the DNA found, which was the case with the DNA taken from the rifle. This caused a higher probability that the DNA may not belong to Gaono, Hassler testified.
Bessant, a father and husband, was gunned down around 6:30 p.m. Dec. 20, 2006, at the intersection of Arthur Avenue and Gold Drive while he was assisting another officer at a traffic stop.
The 25-year-old officer was shot once in the armpit just under his protective vest.
During prosecutor Tom Manning’s opening statement, he told jurors Gaono, 20, fired the shot that killed Bessant with a scoped .22 caliber rifle from 386 feet away. Meanwhile two other teens, Taeotui and Compre, fired handguns — a .22 caliber revolver and 9 mm semi-automatic, respectively — in the direction of the officers from in front of Compre’s residence at 622 Arthur Avenue, he said.
Both .22 caliber firearms were recovered from Gaono’s residence at 680 Arthur Avenue in the hours after the shooting. Gaono, Taeotui and Seau are also possible contributors to DNA found on the .22 caliber revolver.
Throughout the case, Gaono’s attorney, William Stone, has maintained that while his client had been hanging out in front of 622 Arthur Avenue prior to the shooting, he left before the officer was gunned down.
Stone said Gaono was doing his fellow gang members a favor by holding onto the weapons after the shooting and when he inadvertently confessed to murdering Bessant.
Gaono is charged with one count of murder in the first degree, as well as a single count each of assault and attempted assault relating to the other officer at the scene and her ridealong participant. Additionally, gang and weapon allegations are attached to the aforementioned charges.
If convicted, Gaono faces life in prison without parole because of the special circumstance allegation that he murdered a police officer.
Because he was 17 at the time of the shooting, he is not eligible for the death penalty.
Taeotui, 18, was sentenced in January to life in prison without parole after he was convicted of the same charges Gaono now faces.
Compre, on the other hand, had the murder and assault charges against him dropped last March after a judge found a lack of evidence to put the teen in front of his house at the time of the shooting.
Gaono remains in Vista jail on $5 million bail.

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