OCEANSIDE — The gun that killed a police officer in the working class neighborhood of Mesa Margarita a few days before Christmas was aimed at the officer’s head, an investigator said.
The scope of the .22 caliber rifle was fixed on Oceanside police Officer Dan Bessant’s head as the suspect pulled the trigger, said Norman Pawchuck, a criminalist with the San Diego Sheriff’s Department.
Propped up on the mailbox of 622 Arthur Avenue with the scope aimed at Bessant’s head, the bullet struck the 25-year-old officer under his armpit killing him at the scene, he said. Pawchuck testified that when fired the .22 caliber rifle under similar circumstances at the range, the bullet pattern was indicative of Bessant’s fatal injury.
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.
Prosecutors allege Gaono, 20, fired the shot that killed Bessant with a scoped .22 caliber rifle from 386 feet away. Meanwhile two other teens, Penifoti Taeotui and Jose
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, lawyers contend.
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 on to 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.