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Man convicted of killing SDPD officer faces potential death sentence during penalty phase of trial

While Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order placing a moratorium on capital punishment, the order does not prevent prosecutors from seeking the death penalty.

SAN DIEGO — Attorneys argued on Thursday whether a man convicted of shooting two San Diego police officers, killing one of them, should face the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Jesse Michael Gomez, 60, was found guilty Monday of first-degree murder for the July 28, 2016, shooting death of Jonathan "J.D." De Guzman. The jury also found true a special circumstance allegation of killing a police officer, opening Gomez to a possible death sentence in the next phase of the trial.

While Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order in 2019 placing a moratorium on capital punishment in California, the order, which will last for the remainder of his term in office, does not prevent prosecutors from seeking the death penalty.

Thursday, prosecutors laid out their case against Gomez during opening statements. They painted a picture of Gomez as a man with a violent past who time and time again chose violence. Among the witnesses who took the stand was a cab driver who said Gomez attacked him with a cane back in 1983.

However, Gomez's defense attorney told the jury Gomez is someone who was brought up in a physically abusive household. He was addicted to drugs and alcohol before he was old enough to drive. He suffered many losses in his life including the loss of his mother and 1-year-old nephew in a crash in 2013. He said Gomez made many mistakes, but he doesn't deserve to die. 

In addition to murder, jurors also convicted Gomez of the attempted murder of De Guzman's partner, Wade Irwin, as well as a count of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

De Guzman, a 16-year veteran of the San Diego Police Department, died at a hospital, while Irwin was hospitalized for nearly a month for a gunshot to the throat.

Prosecutors say the officers were patrolling Acacia Grove Way just before 11 p.m. when they spotted Gomez and another man split up and start walking along the north and south sidewalks of the street. Irwin testified that after they followed Gomez at slow speeds in their patrol car, he got out of the vehicle and asked Gomez something to the effect of "Do you live in the area?"

Gomez, who testified on his own behalf, said he did not realize the men who approached him were law enforcement and instead thought they were gang members poised to kill him.

He testified that he only recognized that a car with its fog lights on was following him, but said he found the manner in which it was traveling "pretty suspicious."

After the car stopped, Gomez testified that the headlights turned on, obscuring his vision, and a man got out and asked him, "Where are you from?" According to Gomez, that question is a common gang challenge, which in his experience growing up in Shelltown means a violent encounter is soon to follow.

He testified that, fearing for his life, he opened fire on the "silhouette" of the man who posed the question, as well as the car. When asked to describe what was running through his mind at the time, he said, "I thought gang members were going to shoot and kill me."

Irwin testified that Gomez faced him with an "angry, hateful look on his face," then "immediately" raised his hand and shot him in the throat, before walking toward the police car and firing multiple times on De Guzman.

Prosecutors allege Gomez, who had prior run-ins with the law and was illegally carrying a firearm when he was contacted, shot the officers because he was not going to risk going to jail again.

After De Guzman was shot, Irwin drew his gun and fired on the shooter, who was running eastbound, according to the prosecution.

A blood trail from the shooting scene led police to an unconscious Gomez, who was taken into custody in a ravine off South 38th Street, a short distance from the scene, and hospitalized with a gunshot wound to his upper body.

WATCH" Closing arguments set in trial of man accused in SDPD officer's killing