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Legal appeals could keep man who killed SDPD officer in prison despite court order for release

Jesus Cecena
Posted at 5:40 PM, May 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-04 21:25:17-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — California Governor Gavin Newsom could potentially appeal a recent court ruling that would allow Jesus Cecena, who murdered San Diego Police Officer Archie Buggs in 1978, to be released from prison. Newsom had overturned the Parole Board's most recent approval of release for Cecena in 2020.

Cecena killed Buggs execution-style during a traffic stop. Buggs partner, former officer Jesse Navarro, says the killing was a pre-meditated action taken to enhance Cecena's status in his gang. “I have seen a lot of horrible things. I’ve seen some great things. But something like this is always, always lived and will stay in my memory," Navarro told ABC 10News.

Cecena was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. However, a change in state law allowed Cecena to begin applying for parole in 2014. The Parole Board has approved the application five times, deciding that Cecena was no longer a threat to the public. However, parole was overturned by the governor each time, first by Jerry Brown, and most recently by Newsom. After the most recent rejection, Cecena asked the court to rule that it was illegal to keep him in prison after being approved for release so many times. A judge ruled in favor of Cecena, setting up his potential release by the end of May.

San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan is calling on Newsom to order California Attorney General Rob Bonta to appeal. Stephan told ABC 10News Cecena has never taken full responsibility for his actions. “He continues to minimize, deceive, and not tell the truth, not take accountability about the gravity of the crime.” Stephan says Cecena's refusal to admit the reasons for his actions mean he could still pose a threat to the public. “That makes him not suitable, not ready to come out. Because he has not really shown true ownership over what he did," Stephan said.

ABC 10News spoke with legal analyst Alex Ozols, a former criminal defense attorney, about the Cecena case, with which he is not involved. He says the court considers different criteria than prosecutors or the governor. “The judge, apparently, had a different understanding of whether or not this person was rehabilitated and would be dangerous in the future.”

Despite the heinous nature of the crime, Ozols questions whether it is just to continue overruling Cecena's release, especially after five different parole reviews have recommended it. He also says the appeals process, if Governor Newsom moves forward, could keep Cecena in prison for years, essentially going around the judge's order. "This individual is 61 years old. They may just keep appealing and keep appealing and keep this going because, essentially, his life is going to be over soon in prison.”

A spokesperson for Governor Newsom told ABC 10News they were reviewing the court's ruling.