Gang member Meki Gaono was convicted today of first-degree murder for killing Oceanside police officer Dan Bessant in 2006.
Gaono, 20, faces life in prison without the possibility of parole when he is sentenced May 19.
Prosecutor Tom Manning told the jury in his closing argument that Gaono -- who was 17 at the time -- shot the 25-year-old officer without provocation.
He said a gang culture that rewards violence, coupled with a law enforcement crackdown, played a role in the fatal attack.
Gaono's attorney, William Stone, countered that his client was nowhere near the scene of the killing, despite a videotaped confession.
Witnesses testified that the officer was providing backup for Officer Karina Pina at a traffic stop in a gang-ridden neighborhood when a number of shots were fired. The married father was struck in the armpit, just below his protective vest, and died at a hospital.
Neither Pina nor a female civilian ride-along were injured.
The prosecutor said "fear and intimidation" gives gangs power, and young gang members have to commit violent crimes to increase their standing within the group.
Gaono previously backed up his fellow gang members in fights, but until then hadn't had a big opportunity to move up in the gang ranks, Manning said.
The prosecutor told jurors that Gaono and two fellow gang members, including Penifoti Taeotui and Jose Compre Jr., waited 16 minutes before firing their weapons from in front of Compre's house.
Taeotui was convicted of murder in a separate trial and sentenced to life in prison. Charges against Compre were dismissed at a preliminary hearing for lack of evidence.
An "undercurrent motive" for the defendants was that police had recently increased their presence in the gang-plagued neighborhood and the city had started civil abatement procedures against three residences identified as hosting criminal activity, Manning told the jury.
A resident of the neighborhood testified that he saw Gaono running down the street with what appeared to be a rifle. The prosecutor said the murder weapon, a .22-caliber rifle, was discovered in a guitar case in a storage shed of the Gaono residence.
Manning said prints from Gaono's index and middle fingers and his thumb were found on the rifle, and DNA discovered in three locations on the firearm could have come from Gaono.
But Stone said the prosecution was unable to prove his client was involved in Bessant's death. Gaono was given the rifle three weeks earlier, so it was no surprise that his prints and DNA would be discovered, Stone argued. He said the closest DNA match was to Taeotui.
While someone identified Gaono as the person running with the rifle, other witnesses described the person as "stocky and bushy-haired," more consistent with Taeotui, Stone said.
The prosecution contended that Gaono lied to detectives when first questioned, but later admitted that he fired the shots.
Cool and seasonal temperatures through Wednesday under low pressure. High pressure builds for a warmer and drier Thursday at the coast and inland.
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