Jurors Reach Verdict in Officer Killing Trial

The jury has reached a verdict in the trial of Penifoti Taeotui, one of two men accused of shooting and killing Oceanside police officer Dan Bessant in 2006.

Penifoti Taeotui, also known as "P.J.", was convicted of murder in the first degree. He was 16 at the time of the shooting and a documented member of a gang that claims turf in the area where the killing happened, not far from Camp Pendleton's back gate.

When the verdict was read, Taeotui's family left the courtroom. Some members began crying hysterically.

Witnesses have testified that Taeotui and his alleged accomplice, Mekhi Gaono, 19, were drunk on the night of Dec. 20, and fired two separate weapons at the officer.  Gaono is accused of firing the shot that killed Bessant.

The North County Times reported Taeotui's attorney argued his client was not present at the time. Bessant was shot through the heart after stopping to see if a fellow officer needed assistance during a routine and unrelated traffic stop.

Unlike the prosecution, which took nearly a month to present its case and called dozens of witnesses, the defense called just a handful of witnesses. 

While Taeotui did not show any emotion during witness testimony, it was a very different story for Bessant's father. "It's an emotional endurance contest," Steve Bessant said. "He was a good husband and in just a couple of months showed himself to be a super father."

Taeotui faces life in prison without the possibility of parole. Because he was a juvenile at the time of the crime, he is not eligible for the death penalty.

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