Jesse Michael Gomez in court
Jesse Michael Gomez in court. Image from KFMB-TV broadcast

An April trial date was set Friday for the death-penalty case of a man accused of gunning down a San Diego police officer and wounding his partner in 2016.

Jury selection is due to begin April 6 for the trial of Jesse Michael Gomez, 58, who is charged with murder and attempted murder, with a special- circumstance allegation of murder of a police officer.

Gomez is accused in the death of Officer Jonathan “J.D.” DeGuzman, who was shot about 11 p.m. July 28, 2016, in the 3700 block of Acacia Grove Way. DeGuzman, a 16-year veteran of the San Diego Police Department, was shot in the driver’s seat of his patrol car and was pronounced dead after being taken to a hospital.

His partner, Officer Wade Irwin, was shot in the neck and spent nearly a month in a hospital. He testified at Gomez’s preliminary hearing that he suffered a collapsed lung, paralysis to his right diaphragm and vocal cords, facial numbness and nerve damage.

Irwin testified that as he and DeGuzman were patrolling the area, they saw two men split up and start walking along the north and south sidewalks of Acacia Grove Way.

He said he believed the man on the south side — whom he later learned was Gomez — was someone else he had previously arrested. DeGuzman stopped the car and Irwin got out of the passenger side, leaving the door open, he said.

Irwin then asked Gomez, “Hey, do you live in the area?” and Gomez “almost immediately” shot him, the officer testified. Irwin said Gomez then approached the open passenger door of the patrol car and fired into the vehicle, where DeGuzman was sitting. Irwin returned fire as the shooter fled.

Gomez was later taken into custody in a ravine off South 38th Street, a short distance from the scene, and was hospitalized with a gunshot wound to his upper body.

The trial is expected to take about a month for the guilt phase, then another week or two for the penalty phase, should jurors convict Gomez of murder and the special-circumstance allegation. The penalty phase would ask jurors to weigh whether Gomez should face death or life imprisonment without parole.

Gomez’s attorneys, Troy Britt and Jessica Marshall, argued Friday that Gomez should not be facing the death penalty in the wake of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s moratorium against capital punishment, which they argued could mislead jurors. Though the moratorium is only in effect through the end of Newsom’s gubernatorial term, Gomez’s attorneys argued it could have implications on a jury’s conclusion of whether to recommend death for Gomez.

“What position are we going to take that’s going to protect Mr. Gomez from being put to death by someone who says, `It’s not my responsibility. The governor is going to reprieve (Gomez)?” Britt said.

San Diego County Superior Court Judge Frederick Link denied the motion, saying he didn’t believe prospective jurors would generally be aware of all the ins and outs of the moratorium, or that it would greatly impact the jury pool.

Link also said he believed anyone selected for the jury panel would weigh the facts of the case appropriately and not let the moratorium or other external information such as media coverage affect their decision.

“I’ve felt that in my contact with jurors in these types of cases, they want to do the right thing,” Link said. “They want to make sure that the defendant gets a fair trial… whether or not it gets to the death penalty, they want to make sure that they make the right decision.”

— City News Service