Jury Says He's a Cop Killer

By R. Stickney
|  Monday, Apr 20, 2009  |  Updated 2:04 PM PDT
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Trial Under Way For Teen Accused In Officer's Slaying

Alleged shooter Meki Gaono sits in court during testimony in his murder trial.

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Emotional Testimony In Officer Slaying Trial

"Try to breathe." Those were the words a civilian ride-along said to an Oceanside police officer as he lay dying, as testimony continues in the trial of an alleged teen gunman.

Trial Under Way For Teen Accused In Officer's Slaying

The family of slain Oceanside Police Officer Dan Bessant attends the trial of an alleged teen gunman.
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Jurors reached a verdict Monday in the trial of a gang member accused in the December 2006 shooting death of an Oceanside polic officer.

Meki Gaono, 20, was convicted of first-degree murder for shooting and killing Officer Dan Bessant. He was also convicted of special circumstances charges, including lying in wait, murder of a peace officer and murder for benefit of a street gang.

Jurors found Gaono guilty of three other firearm violations but not guilty of one firearms violation.

Members of Bessant's family and friends packed the courtoom, along with about 20 friends and family members of Gaono, including his grandfather, who raised him. At least 10 members of the Oceanside Police Department, including Chief Frank McCoy, were present when Vista Judge Runston Maino read the verdict.

Jurors reached the decision in their third day of deliberations. The panel got the case last Wednesday after a six-week trial.

Prosecutors said Gaono, 17 at the time aof the slaying and a documented gang member, fired the fatal shot that killed  Bessant during a routine traffic stop. Gaono told investigators he wasn't thinking when he pulled the trigger.

Authorities have concluded the killing was done for no other reason than that it presented a chance for three documented gang members to gain respect, however warped, for shooting at police.

Jurors heard portions of Gaono's first interview, when he said he was playing basketball with friends at the time of the shooting.

Prosecutors said Gaono and two fellow teenage gang members had been drinking and playing with guns when they spotted police at a traffic stop and shot at the officers.

During questioning, a police officer asked Gaono what he would tell Bessant if he could and supplied the teenager with a pencil and paper, according to one of our media partners, the North County Times.

"I was under the influence that night, and if I could take it back, I would," Gaono wrote in an apology letter he wrote to Bessant near the end of an all-night interrogation. "Please find it in your heart to forgive me."

At that point, he did not know the 25-year-old Bessant was dead, reported the North County Times.

Last year, Penifoti Taeotui was convicted of first degree murder for his role in the shooting. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Charges against a third suspected gunman were dropped because prosecutors didn't have enough evidence. He remains under investigation, according to police.

Gaono will be sentenced May 19.

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