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Jury recommends death penalty for man who killed San Diego police officer, wounded another

Jesse Michael Gomez, 60, was found guilty earlier this month of first-degree murder for the July 28, 2016, shooting death of Jonathan "J.D." De Guzman, 43.

SAN DIEGO — A jury on Thursday recommended the death penalty for a man convicted of shooting two San Diego police officers, killing one of them. Jurors' other option would have been to recommend life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

Jesse Michael Gomez, 60, was found guilty earlier this month of first-degree murder for the July 28, 2016, shooting death of Jonathan "J.D." De Guzman, 43. The jury also found true a special circumstance allegation of killing a police officer, opening Gomez to the death sentence.

The judge in the case will decide whether to uphold the jury's recommendation at a hearing on Oct. 10.

After the jury's recommendation Thursday, San Diego Police Department Chief David Nisleit issued the following statement: 

"Five years ago, San Diego Police Officer Jonathan “JD” De Guzman was shot and killed and his partner, Detective Wade Irwin, was severely wounded. On September 13th, a jury convicted Jesse Gomez of murder and attempted murder.

In the years since his death, JD’s loved ones, Detective Irwin, and the entire SDPD family have looked forward to the day where the defendant would be held accountable for his heinous crimes.

The San Diego Police Department would like to thank the jury for their service over the course of this trial. We would also like to thank District Attorney Summer Stephan and her prosecutorial team led by Deputy District Attorney Valerie Summers and assisted by Deputy District Attorney Christine Bannon and Investigator Michael Riley. 

The department honors the officers who worked valiantly to save the lives of Officers De Guzman and Irwin on July 28, 2016 and take the suspect into custody. Many of those officers courageously re-lived their horrifying experiences while delivering compelling testimony to the jury. 

Despite the verdict, the De Guzman family continues to endure an unthinkable loss. We will never forget the sacrifice they and JD have made in service to our community."

San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan released the following statement Thursday:

"Jury trials are central to our democracy and we thank the jury for reaching a just verdict. The cold-hearted murder of San Diego Police Officer Jonathan “J.D.” De Guzman, who faithfully served his community, and the attempted murder of his partner Officer Wade Irwin, deserved the highest penalty provided by law.

I am so proud of the DA team-- which was led by Deputy DA Valerie Summers and included DDAs Christine Bannon and Michael Reilly, and DA Investigator Tim Norris-- for their dedication and excellence in the pursuit of justice for the De Guzman family.”  

In addition to murder, the jury 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 around here?"

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 penalty phase of trial for SDPD officer's killer