After a tumultuous week of deliberations, Yolo County jurors Wednesday rejected Marco Antonio Topete's expressions of remorse for killing Sheriff's Deputy Jose Antonio Diaz and recommended that Topete be sentenced to death.
Diaz died in a June 2008 ambush when Topete shot him with a military-type assault rifle on a dirt road near the rural town of Dunnigan.
After a car chase, Topete fled into the darkness, took cover behind a house and opened fire on the deputy, who had his back turned, prosecutors said.
Topete never took the stand during the trial.
But what he told his wife in a taped jailhouse conversation spoke volumes, two jurors said afterward in the courthouse hallway.
The jurors declined to give their names for fear of reprisals from Topete's associates in the Norteño street gang.
In the jailhouse recording introduced at trial, Topete told his wife he shot the deputy because he was mad about being pulled over for suspected drunken driving.
He sped from the traffic stop in Dunnigan, then he left his car and circled behind the deputy, firing 17 rounds in four seconds from an AR-15 assault rifle.
"Somebody wanted to be a (expletive) hero," Topete told his wife. "Are you (expletive) stupid in the head?"
The jurors said they didn't believe Topete's statements to investigators after he was captured that he was sorry and that he had only meant to frighten Diaz to get away.
"Topete never got on the stand, but his voice was loud and clear," said one of the jurors. "I think Officer Diaz was hunted from a dark place known to that man."
The jurors said evidence showed Topete exhibited an escalating pattern of violence in his life. When he shot Diaz, he was on parole for a Woodland gas station shooting for which he served 12 years in state prison.
One of the jurors said evidence had shown Topete was a high-ranking Norteño gang member who could "call shots" from behind bars. Only Topete's execution, they said, would end his penchant for violence.
"Life would not stop that," one juror said.
Other penalty-phase testimony that Topete was a loving father failed to persuade them. Topete had his 4-month-old daughter in the car during the chase and fired toward his own car when he shot Diaz, prosecution evidence showed.
"A loving father wouldn't fire a semiautomatic weapon feet from his infant child," one juror said.
The guilt phase of the trial began in August and lasted nearly two months, until early October.
Jurors took less than a day to convict Topete on all counts, including first-degree murder with four special circumstances: lying in wait, murder of a peace officer, murder by a gang member and murder to avoid arrest.
The trial's penalty phase lasted about a month.
Jurors got the case Nov. 8 and retired to decide whether Topete deserved death or life in prison without parole. After a day and half of deliberations, a middle-aged woman asked to be removed from the jury, saying she was foreign-born and couldn't see the case from a U.S. perspective.
Yolo Superior Court Judge Paul K. Richardson ordered the panel to stop deliberations that Thursday afternoon. On Monday, he replaced her with an alternate, after finding that her lack of English language skills made her unsuitable to continue.
The two jurors said Wednesday that the woman had deliberated during the guilt phase but refused in the penalty phase to discuss the life-or-death decision. They said she acted on her own when she notified the judge.
After the alternate juror joined the panel, jurors deliberated another day and a half. They watched the six-hour videotaped interrogation of Topete following his capture after an all-night manhunt. On Wednesday, they took a vote and announced they'd reached a verdict.
"Mr. Topete, would you please rise and face this jury," Judge Richardson said. The Woodland courtroom was packed with relatives of Diaz and Topete, and law enforcement officers.
As the clerk read the death verdict, Topete showed little reaction. His wife, Angelique Topete, whom he had met and married in prison, wept softly. Otherwise the Woodland courtroom was silent.
Richardson set a sentencing date of Jan. 12 and he kept in place a gag order to prevent lawyers, officers and the victim's relatives from discussing the verdict until then.