SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A man executed a San Diego police officer and shot his partner in the neck, a prosecutor said Tuesday, while a defense attorney told jurors that her client did not realize the men who approached him at night in a "gang-infested neighborhood" were law enforcement officers.
Jesse Michael Gomez, 60, is charged with shooting Officer Jonathan "J.D." De Guzman, 43, and fellow gang-unit Officer Wade Irwin in the Shelltown neighborhood 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.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Gomez, which he could face if convicted of murder and a special circumstance allegation of murder of a police officer. His trial is expected to last as long as two months.
Deputy District Attorney Valerie Summers told jurors in her opening statement that Gomez and another man split up and started walking along the north and south sidewalks of Acacia Grove Way as De Guzman and Irwin were patrolling the area in a marked car.
Irwin believed the man on the south side was someone he had previously arrested, though it turned out to be someone else -- Gomez, the prosecutor said.
De Guzman stopped the car, and Irwin got out of the passenger side, leaving the door open, then asked the man if he lived near the area.
The prosecutor alleged that Gomez shot Irwin once in the throat, then approached the open passenger door of the patrol car and fired five times into the vehicle, where De Guzman was sitting. The bullet that killed De Guzman struck him near his armpit, where he was unprotected by his bulletproof vest.
"The defendant, after shooting Irwin, turned to De Guzman, who was still in his patrol car, hadn't even gotten out, he turned to De Guzman and fired not once, not twice, but five times, emptying his gun," said Summers.
Prosecutors showed body camera footage from a nearby officer that has the sound of gunshots in the background. Prosecutors also played audio from the police radio of Irwin putting in the call for help while tending to his own gunshot wound.
Prosecutors hope to prove Gomez intentionally shot both officers to avoid going to jail. They say he was illegally carrying a concealed weapon, a violation of his parole from earlier convictions.
Summers said Gomez, who had prior run-ins with the law and was illegally carrying a firearm when he was contacted, was not going to risk going to jail again.
"As they slowly pull up to him, (Gomez) makes that decision. He unholsters his gun, thinking, 'Not tonight,’” said Summers.
But Gomez's attorney, Jessica Petry, said her client was unaware that he was being approached by police. She said the officers did not clearly identify themselves as law enforcement upon contacting him and approached him from behind as he was walking through an area rife with gang activity.
Petry said the question Irwin posed to him, something to the effect of "Where are you from?" is a challenge and/or threat commonly made by gang members seeking rivals to target, which "almost always precedes violence" and is "a frightening lose-lose proposition" for anyone confronted with the question.
She also noted that Gomez was under the influence of methamphetamine at the time, which she said can result in enhanced paranoia and false perceptions.
"Jesse Gomez fired that gun because he thought he was going to die," Petry said.
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.
Summers said forensic evidence tying Gomez to the shooting include a gun found in the ravine which was matched to the bullets fired at the officers, a bullet from Irwin's gun located in a wall on Acacia Grove Way that had Gomez's DNA on it, and a bullet that remains inside Gomez's body to this day, also fired from Irwin's gun.
- Hearing held for man accused of killing San Diego police Officer Jonathan De Guzman
- Man accused of killing SDPD officer, wounding partner, to stand trial
- 2 SDPD officers shot in Southcrest area
- Fallen officer remembered in emotional memorial service
- Thousands line procession route to pay their respects to Officer De Guzman
- Widow of San Diego police officer killed in line of duty shares her story
- Officer injured in shooting that killed partner speaks for the first time
- SDPD come out to support fallen officer's daughter on her graduation day
- History of SDPD officers killed in the line of duty
- Police search park for evidence in De Guzman murder