A man convicted of fatally shooting a San Diego police officer in 1978 could be released from prison in the near future after a judge granted his petition challenging Gov. Gavin Newsom's reversal of his parole.
Jesus Cecena was convicted of killing Officer Archie Buggs, 30, who was shot four times after he stopped a car driven by Cecena in the Skyline neighborhood.
Cecena, who was 17 at the time of the shooting, was initially sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, but the sentence was reduced to a seven-years-to-life term in 1982 due to him being underage at the time of the shooting.
Cecena, now 61, has been granted parole five times since 2014, but each time California's governor has reversed the parole grant, with Newsom most recently reversing the parole board's decision in 2020.
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In the 2020 decision, Newsom cited Cecena's gang motivations as a major factor in his decision, writing "Mr. Cecena still is unwilling to acknowledge the underlying or causative factors that are in evidence, specifically that he belonged to a gang where killing a peace officer was seen as an ultimate goal, that a more senior and respected gang member handed him a firearm so he could kill Officer Buggs, and that killing Officer Buggs was a way for Mr. Cecena to gain more respect and power within his gang. Mr. Cecena has additional work to do in this area before he can be safely released."
Last month, San Diego Superior Court Judge David Gill granted a petition filed by Cecena that challenged the governor's order. With that legal victory, the San Diego County District Attorney's Office, which opposes Cecena's release, says he could be freed from custody sometime in the next month if the decision is not appealed.
"Cecena has refused to acknowledge both his true motivation for this horrific murder and the enhanced status he sought in his gang by committing this crime," District Attorney Summer Stephan said in a statement released Tuesday. "The Superior Court decision did not give weight to these important factors and consequently reached an erroneous conclusion. I am urging Gov. Newsom to authorize the Attorney General to appeal the court's decision based on the serious concerns about Cecena's suitability that the governor relied on in reversing the grant of parole in his October 2020 letter."
The DA's Office alleges that while incarcerated, Cecena has displayed an "unstable social history," in which he's received "more than 10 violation reports for misconduct while in prison."
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Stephan added, "Without accepting full responsibility for the true nature of this crime, he continues to present a clear and unacceptable danger to our community. It is important to pause on the gravity of this case that fortunately remains a rare occurrence where a police officer on duty, in uniform, and with a marked patrol car is shot and executed while he is on the ground.
"The cold-blooded murder of San Diego Police Officer Archie Buggs devastated his family, his department, and our community. The very nature of the crime was not only callous, but inexplicably senseless, and it demonstrated a total disregard for human life and disdain for those in a position of authority."