SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - A third man pleaded guilty Friday to the 2006 shooting death of Oceanside Police Officer Dan Bessant, closing the case that devastated the North County community.
Jose Compre admitted to a gang allegation and one count of felony manslaughter in exchange for a term of 25 years in state prison.
He will be sentenced on May 31, 2019, at the Vista Courthouse.
Officer Bessant and fellow Officer Karina Pina were conducting a traffic stop at Arthur Avenue and Gold Drive when Meki Gaono fired the shot that hit Bessant. Gaono was hiding behind a brick mailbox in front of Compre’s home with a scope-equipped rifle. Compre and a third person, Penifoti Taeotui, opened fire in the direction of the officers but the shots didn’t hit anyone.
“This plea holds another defendant accountable for his role in the heartless murder of Officer Bessant and brings an additional measure of justice for Officer Bessant’s family and friends, the community and his law enforcement colleagues,” said San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan.
Two other men responsible for Officer Bessant’s death are serving prison sentences. Gaono and Taeotui were both sentenced to life in prison without parole in the years after the murder.
Compre, Gaono, and Taeotui were teenagers at the time of the shooting.
During Taeotui's 2008 trial, then-Oceanside Police Homicide Detective Damon Smith testified that Taeotui told friends the three killers were standing outside Compre's Arthur Avenue house getting drunk when Officer Pina pulled over a car at the intersection of Gold Drive, Smith said.
"They decided to test their guns on them," Smith testified.
Bessant, a 25-year-old with three years on the Oceanside Police force, was struck by a .22-caliber rifle bullet in the left armpit, just under his protective vest, and died at a hospital.
Officer Bessant left behind his wife and infant son, Wyatt. In 2013, what was the Pacific Street Bridge was renamed the "Oceanside Police Officer Dan Bessant Memorial Bridge." A run is held in his honor every year.
"He's still gone," Bessant's father Steve told 10News in 2016. "Maybe closure will happen in eternity when we're in Heaven together."
In a tragic twist, Steve Bessant had mentored one of his son's killers while working as an assistant principal at El Camino High School.
"If it weren't for gangs, I don't think this would have happened," said Bessant of Gaono's role in the shooting.
See a timeline of the case: