SAN DIEGO (KGTV/CNS) -- A San Diego man is facing the death penalty or life in prison after he was convicted in court Monday of shooting and killing a police officer four years ago in the Shelltown neighborhood.
Jesse Michael Gomez, 60, was found guilty as charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of San Diego Police Department Officer Jonathan “J.D.” De Guzman. He was also found guilty of attempted first-degree murder in the shooting of fellow gang-unit Officer Wade Irwin.
Because Gomez was convicted of murder, plus a special circumstance allegation of killing a police officer, he faces another phase of the trial to determine whether he receives the death penalty or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
The shooting that killed 43-year-old De Guzman and injured Irwin happened on the night of July 28, 2016.
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.
Gomez, who testified on his own behalf during his trial, said he did not realize the men who approached him were law enforcement and instead thought they were gang members poised to kill him.
Prosecutors say the officers were patrolling Acacia Grove Way when they spotted Gomez and another man split up and start walking along the north and south sidewalks of the street.
After following Gomez at slow speeds in their patrol car, Irwin testified that he got out of the vehicle and asked him, "Do you live in the area?"
He said Gomez then faced him with an "angry, hateful look on his face," then "immediately" raised his hand and shot Irwin in the throat, before walking toward the police car and firing multiple times on De Guzman.
Deputy District Attorney Valerie Summers alleged that 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.
Gomez testified that he did not recognize that the car following him was a police patrol vehicle. He said he only saw that it was a car with its fog lights on, but testified that 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.
He testified that a man got out and asked him, "Where are you from?"
Gomez said that question is a common gang challenge, which in his experience growing up in Shelltown means a violent encounter is soon to follow.
Though Irwin testified earlier in the trial that he asked Gomez, "Do you live in the area?" Gomez said he heard the question differently.
"I did not hear that. He might have said that, but I didn't hear that," he testified.
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."
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 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.
Jack Schaeffer, the President of the San Diego Police Officers Association, released a statement Monday regarding Gomez's verdict.
“The San Diego Police Officers Association expresses its gratitude to the judicial system for finding the defendant, Jesse Gomez, guilty in the murder trial of Officer Jonathan “J.D.” De Guzman and the shooting of Officer Wade Irvin. We are pleased that justice has been served.
De Guzman, who served 16 years at the San Diego Police Department, continues to be remembered as a noble officer who was passionate about keeping his community safe. We are honored that he represented our department and we send our requests to his family and loved ones.”