COMPTON : Key Witness Missing as Murder Trial Starts

The murder trial of a 23-year-old man accused of gunning down two Compton police officers began this week, despite the fact that a key witness is missing.

The witness, Calvin Cooksey, moved to Arizona last fall and has refused to return for the trial, saying he fears retribution.

Cooksey has been in a dispute with police and prosecutors for the past year, saying authorities broke their promise to relocate his family. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Edward A. Ferns issued a bench warrant last week in an effort to force Cooksey to return to California. When Cooksey failed to show up in an Arizona court after receiving a summons, Ferns issued an arrest warrant.

Prosecutors will be able to use the videotaped testimony of Cooksey from a preliminary hearing in October, 1993, Ferns decided Monday. During that hearing, in which Cooksey was cross-examined by defense attorneys, he said that the defendant, Regis Deon Thomas, boasted of killing officers Kevin Michael Burrell, 29, and James Wayne MacDonald, 23. Cooksey also testified that he helped Thomas get rid of the murder weapon.

Thomas is accused of shooting the officers during a traffic stop on Feb. 22, 1993. Both men were shot four times in the first murders of on-duty officers in the Compton Police Department's history.

Thomas, of San Pedro, also is being tried for an unrelated murder in January, 1992. He pleaded not guilty to all three murders. If convicted by the six-man, six-woman jury, Thomas faces the death penalty.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Mark Arnold told jurors Monday that he will present other witnesses who will testify that they drove past the murder scene on Rosecrans Avenue and saw Thomas shoot Burrell and MacDonald. But defense attorney Jay Jaffe said none of the witnesses could identify Thomas without reservation.

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