Brown denies parole for killer of San Diego police officer in 1978

At left is a recent photo of Jesus Cecena, who as a 17-year-old gang member killed San Diego Police Officer Archie Buggs, right, on Nov. 4, 1978.

At left is a recent photo of Jesus Cecena, who as a 17-year-old gang member killed San Diego Police Officer Archie Buggs, right, on Nov. 4, 1978.

(California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; San Diego Police Department)

Gov. Jerry Brown late Friday rejected a parole panel recommendation that he free a man who has spent nearly 36 years in prison for the 1978 killing of a San Diego police officer.

Brown overturned the panel’s recommendation that Jesus Cecena, 53, be paroled in the killing of Officer Archie Buggs.

Cecena “poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison,” Brown wrote in a four-page decision.

A parole board panel in April recommended that Cecena be paroled, ruling that he had met the standards under a new law meant to assist prisoners serving long sentences for crimes committed as juveniles. Cecena was 17 when he killed Buggs.


Brown ruled that Cecena “refuses to accept full responsibility for this heinous execution and still has yet to admit the truth of officer Buggs’ murder to himself or the [parole] board.”

Specifically, Cecena has refused to admit that after shooting Buggs five times, he then pumped a final bullet into Buggs’ head as the officer lay helpless in the gutter, Brown wrote.

San Diego police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, who had written to Brown opposing the parole, praised the governor’s decision.

“Criminals who commit such crimes should never be paroled,” Zimmerman said. “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.”

Bill Farrar, who was one of the first officers at the scene when Buggs was killed and later that night helped arrest Cecena, said Brown “has done exactly the right thing. Cecena never really accepted responsibility for what was an execution.”

Buggs, 30, an Army veteran who had been with the department for four years, was killed after stopping Cecena’s car for speeding at 1 a.m. on Nov. 4, 1978, in the city’s Skyline neighborhood.

Cecena, who had been drinking beer and smoking marijuana laced with PCP, was four months short of 18. Evidence indicated that he fired five times at Buggs, then paused, walked toward the fallen officer and fired a final bullet into his head.

His parole was opposed by Zimmerman, Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis, the San Diego Police Officers Assn. and numerous officers, some of whom worked with Buggs.


“This was a cold-blooded execution of an on-duty police officer, which devastated the officer’s family, his department and our community,” Dumanis wrote Brown in opposing the parole.

The new law, 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 the hearing, 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. Cecena married in 2008.

As the governor’s decision was pending, Cecena’s attorney, Tracy Lum, noted that, “Nobody denies this crime was horrible, but the law is the law.”

Cecena’s codefendant, 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.

Twitter: @LATsandiego