Gov. Gavin Newsom has reversed the decision by a state parole board to release Jesus Cecena, who was convicted of murder as a teenager in 1979 for gunning down San Diego Police Officer Archie Buggs.
The decision marks the fourth time in the last five years that the governor’s office has reversed the decision by parole board members to free the 57-year-old Cecena.
Cecena shot Buggs to death during a routine traffic stop the evening of Nov. 4, 1978. After being convicted of first-degree murder, he was sentenced to life without parole. His sentence was modified to life with the possibility of parole in 1982 after an appellate court ruled that juveniles could not be sentenced to no-parole terms.
Between 1986 and 2012 Cecena was denied parole 14 times, but in 2014 — after he had disavowed gang life and become a Christian and model prisoner — the board cleared him for release. Under California law, parole grants to any inmate sentenced to life are automatically reviewed by the governor.
In his three-page letter denying parole, Newsom echoed many of the arguments that former Gov. Jerry Brown, a fellow Democrat, made to keep Cecena in custody, including that Newsom does not believe Cecena has “sufficiently explained his callous actions on the night of this crime.”
He also said Cecena continued to say that he fired repeatedly and quickly, but has denied deliberately firing the final shot into Bugg’s head at close range. Newsom said that trial testimony and evidence from the San Diego County district attorney’s office contradict that.
“Mr. Cecena’s unwillingness to accept responsibility for the true nature of his attack on Officer Buggs further indicates he is unsuitable for parole,” Newsom wrote.
Cecena’s parole attorney, Tracy Lum, did not respond to an email requesting comment on Wednesday. But she said in an interview last year that Cecena had done everything required of him inside prison and deserved to be released.
“I’ve worked with thousands of inmates,” Lum said. “He is the most suitable inmate for parole now walking the yard.”
Cecena’s next parole hearing is in February 2020.
In a phone interview from Valley State Prison in Chowchilla last summer, he said he was remorseful and ashamed of killing Buggs, and for the pain and grief he caused the officer’s families and colleagues.
Greg Moran writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.