Gov. Brown rejects parole for cop killer
Gov. Jerry Brown has rejected a parole panel’s recommendation that he free an inmate who has spent nearly 36 years in prison for the 1978 killing of an on-duty San Diego police officer.
Brown rejected the panel’s recommendation that Jesus Cecena, 53, be paroled in the killing of Officer Archie Buggs.
The panel had found that Cecena met the standards of a new law that increases the possibility of parole for prisoners serving long sentences for crimes committed while they were juveniles. Cecena was 17 when he gunned down Buggs.
Though Cecena has shown commendable steps toward rehabilitation, he still “poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison,” Brown wrote in a four-page decision.
Under the law, Brown had until midnight Friday to make a decision on the matter. If he had opted to neither approve nor overturn the panel’s recommendation, the parole might have gone ahead and Cecena might have been set free.
Instead, Brown announced his decision at 11 p.m. Friday.
“Few people, even hardened gang members, think to avoid being arrested for minor crimes by murdering police officers,” Brown wrote. “And fear of disappointing a parent because of a DUI does not explain gunning down a uniformed police officer during a traffic stop.”
Buggs, 30, an Army veteran who had served in Vietnam, was killed after stopping Cecena’s car on suspicion of speeding at 1 a.m. on Nov. 4, 1978, in San Diego’s Skyline neighborhood. The officer was unmarried, had been a member of the police force for four years and had grown up in the city.
Cecena, who had been drinking beer and smoking marijuana laced with PCP, was four months short of 18 at the time of the incident. Evidence indicated that he fired five times at Buggs, then paused, walked toward the fallen officer and fired a final bullet into his head.
Cecena’s refusal to admit firing that final shot as Buggs lay in the gutter indicates that he has not truly taken responsibility for his crime, Brown wrote.
In San Diego, the governor’s decision was praised by law enforcement officials and rank-and-file officers.
“Criminals who commit such crimes should never be paroled,” said Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman. “Our police officers put their lives on the line every single day to protect the great citizens they serve. This decision sends a very strong message that will make our communities safer and our officers safer.”
Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis called the decision “important to all in San Diego” and labeled the killing a “cold-blooded execution.”
Dumanis, Zimmerman, the Police Officers Assn. and numerous officers, including some who served with Buggs, had written to Brown pleading with him to reject the parole recommendation.
Bill Farrar, who was one of the first officers on the scene when Buggs was killed and later that night helped arrest Cecena, said Brown “has done exactly the right thing.”
The new law, which became effective Jan. 1, says the parole board must give “great weight to the diminished culpability of juveniles” and also consider the prisoner’s “maturity and rehabilitation in prison.”
At a hearing in April, Cecena, an inmate at Valley State Prison in Chowchilla, expressed regret for the killing and pledged to “honor Officer Buggs in a positive way” by leading a law-abiding life if released. But he stopped short of admitting that he fired a final bullet into Buggs’ head.
His prison record indicated that he has disavowed association with prison gangs, helped mentor younger prisoners and participated in Alcoholics Anonymous and Criminals and Gang Members Anonymous.
He has had several offers of jobs and places to live, including with his brother, who owns a concrete-and-rocks business in San Diego County.
As the governor’s decision was pending, Cecena’s attorney, Tracy Lum, said, “Nobody denies this crime was horrible, but the law is the law.”
Cecena’s co-defendant, Jose Arteaga, was 20 when Buggs was killed. Evidence indicated that he handed Cecena the gun after the traffic stop. He was also sentenced to life in prison and may eventually be eligible for parole.
Cecena has had multiple parole hearings during his decades behind bars and will be eligible for additional hearings in the future. As Brown noted, he has given differing explanations of the killing, including at one hearing insisting that he fired only in self-defense.
In his rejection of the parole recommendation, Brown quoted the judge who sentenced Cecena in 1979 as saying that Cecena’s actions “showed a cool, calculated judgment, a deliberate killing.”
Cecena was arrested just hours after the killing at the home of his girlfriend’s mother, where he had gone to wash Buggs’ blood off his hands and clothing. The blood had splattered on him when he fired the final shot, trial evidence indicated.
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