Suspect pleads not guilty in shooting death of Oceanside police Officer Dan Bessant

Posted at 3:27 PM, Oct 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-28 22:27:23-04

SAN DIEGO - A man accused -- for a second time -- of taking part in the fatal shooting of an Oceanside police officer a decade ago pleaded not guilty Friday to a murder charge and other criminal counts.

Jose Domingo Compre, 26, faces life in prison with no chance of parole if convicted in the Dec. 20, 2006, slaying of 25-year-old Dan Bessant near Melba Bishop Park.

At Compre's arraignment in Vista, a judge ordered the defendant -- who also faces an assault charge and weapon and gang allegations -- held in lieu of $5 million bail.

The suspect was taken into custody in the 1200 block of El Camino Real on Thursday morning, Oceanside police Officer Kathleen Vincent said. It was his second arrest in the case, which netted lifelong prison sentences for two of his former gang cohorts.

Compre initially was jailed in connection with the slaying hours after it occurred, but a judge dismissed all charges against him 15 months later, citing insufficient evidence.

Following the afternoon hearing, Deputy District Attorney Tom Manning told reporters he could not discuss what led to the renewed allegations against Compre because the defendant's arrest warrant had been sealed by the court.

Manning said Compre's arrest Thursday was welcome news for everyone.

"When a police officer is killed, it threatens the safety and security of all the citizens of the community," the prosecutor said outside court. "So, I'm assuming that everybody is feeling much better about this case now. I'm happy that the evidence came together and Mr. Compre will stand trial and finally get the justice he deserves."

Bessant, who had been with the Oceanside Police Department for three years, was assisting a fellow officer with an early-evening traffic stop at Arthur Avenue and Gold Drive when 17-year-old Meki Gaono shot him from about 385 feet away with a scope-equipped rifle while hiding behind a brick mailbox in front of Compre's home.

Two other underage gang associates -- Compre was allegedly one of them -- opened fire along with Gaono in the direction of the officers, but the rounds from their pistols did not hit anyone, according to prosecutors.

A bullet from the .22-caliber rifle struck Bessant under his left armpit, just missing his protective vest, and pierced his heart before exiting his body. The married father of a young son was pronounced dead at a hospital a short time later.

Gaono and Compre were arrested that night. The third alleged shooter, 16-year-old Penifoti Taeotui, was taken into custody two weeks later.

Gaono and Taeotui were immediately charged as adults with murdering Bessant, but Compre was held in juvenile hall on a probation violation and unrelated criminal counts for eight months before being charged in Bessant's slaying.

Because the defendants were minors at the time of the shooting, they were ineligible for the death penalty.

Following a 10-day preliminary hearing in March 2008, a judge dismissed all charges against Compre.

Gaono and Taeotui went on to be convicted in separate trials of first-degree murder. Both were sentenced in 2009 to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In a court filing, a prosecutor stated that the defendants had targeted Bessant because he was serving as a neighborhood-policing officer in charge of instituting tougher enforcement in an area rife with gang violence.

Compre's next hearing, a status conference, is scheduled for Nov. 9.