Nearly 12 years after gang members gunned down an Oceanside police officer during a traffic stop, a 28-year-old man admitted in court Friday that he was one of the triggermen.
Jose Compre, who was 16 at the time of the killing of Officer Dan Bessant, pleaded guilty to a charge of voluntary manslaughter, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office said in announcing the surprise deal.
Compre was one of three teenage gang members accused of ambushing 25-year-old Officer Dan Bessant during a traffic stop Dec. 20, 2006.
The other two teens were found guilty at trials several years ago, but lack of evidence led a judge to dismiss the case against Compre.
“This plea holds another defendant accountable for his role in the heartless murder of Officer Bessant and brings an additional measure of justice for Officer Bessant’s family and friends, the community and his law enforcement colleagues,” San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said in the announcement.
In pleading guilty, Compre admitted that he personally fired a gun during the incident that killed the officer and that it was done for the benefit of a street gang.
Compre will be sentenced to 25 years in prison at a hearing scheduled for May 31. He has also given up his right to appeal.
Oceanside police spokesman Tom Bussey said the department is pleased that an agreement was reached and that the case has been resolved.
Bussey had been a field sergeant when Bessant was assigned to his squad.
“He was so energetic and enthusiastic and just wanted to do a good job — and he did,” Bussey said.
The crime was one of opportunity — an ambush. The three teens were standing in front of a home on Arthur Avenue when Bessant and another officer conducted a traffic stop nearly 400 feet away at the corner of Arthur and Gold Drive.
Prosecutors argued the three had been drinking beer, and had watched the police activity for about 15 minutes before opening fire, two using handguns and a rifle.
A rifle round pierced Bessant's heart. No one else was hit.
The motive, authorities said, was to bolster the street status of themselves and their gang.
Compre and two fellow teenage gang members, Meki Gaono and Penifoti “P.J.” Taeutui, were charged as adults in 2007.
Later that year, a judge dismissed charges against Compre.
Gaono and Taeutui were subsequently found guilty at separate trials. Both were sentenced to life in prison.
Then in late October 2016 — nearly 10 years after the killing — prosecutors refiled the case against Compre, citing new and undisclosed evidence. He was arrested and again charged as an adult.
Days later, voters approved Proposition 57, which prevents prosecutors from trying a minor as an adult until a Juvenile Court judge first reviews the case and gives the OK.
Compre’s case was kicked back to Juvenile Court. On Friday, he waived that and agreed to be charged as an adult.
Bessant was married and the father of a boy who was 2 months old at the time.