Judge Denies Bid for Re-Sentencing in Off-Duty Deputy's Murder

Gavel, scales of justice and law books.

Photo: boonchai wedmakawand / Moment / Getty Images

LONG BEACH (CNS) - A judge Thursday rejected a bid for re-sentencing by one of two men convicted of the murder of an off-duty Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy in Long Beach more than 17 years ago.

With Sheriff Robert Luna looking on in the Long Beach courtroom, Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Lowenthal said he found that Justin Flint, now 36, knew that Maria Cecilia Rosa was a peace officer acting within the course of her duties when she was shot to death during an attempted robbery March 28, 2006.

The sheriff -- who was the deputy chief of the Long Beach Police Department's investigations bureau at the time of the killing -- told City News Service that the judge "reached the right decision."

The sheriff said the slain deputy had bravely acted as she was taught and tried to stop the attempted robbery outside the home she was preparing to leave early that morning.

"She made a choice to try to take some kind of action and that cost her her life," Luna said.

Flint, who was charged along with co-defendant Frank Christopher Gonzalez, was convicted of one count each of first-degree murder and attempted robbery involving the 30-year-old victim.

Gonzalez, who admitted shooting the off-duty deputy, was sentenced to death in May 2008, less than a month after being convicted of first-degree murder and attempted robbery.

Jurors also found true the special-circumstance allegation of murder during an attempted robbery against Gonzalez, along with an allegation that he used a gun to kill Rosa, who was dressed in civilian clothing and was preparing to leave for work at the sheriff's Inmate Reception Center.

A separate jury that heard the case against Flint did not find true the special-circumstance allegation, and he was sentenced in 2008 to 29 years to life in state prison.

Last year, a three-justice panel from California's 2nd District Court of Appeal reversed now-retired Judge Gary J. Ferrari's order denying Flint's initial petition for re-sentencing. But the panel also ruled that the prosecution must have the opportunity to show that Flint was not eligible for re-sentencing under the provisions of a new state law because he knew or should have known that Rosa was a peace officer acting within the course of her duties.

Lowenthal noted that the strongest evidence that Flint and Gonzalez knew Rosa was a peace officer were their own statements after the killing, noting that Flint had told his best friend that he saw a badge and knew she was a cop and that Gonzalez admitted during an undercover jailhouse operation that he knew that she was a peace officer.

Deputy District Attorney Mary Murray told the judge Wednesday that Flint "saw and heard everything" and had a "front row seat" during the attack on Rosa.

The prosecutor said it was "simply unreasonable to believe" that the off-duty deputy had identified herself as a law enforcement officer after she was shot, noting that Gonzalez subsequently told undercover agents that Rosa was "flashing" her badge at him.

Flint's attorney, Edmont T. Barrett, countered that the prosecution's entire case was based on the assumption that Rosa displayed her sheriff's badge and that Flint was close enough to see it.

The defense lawyer argued that the badge was found inside a shopping bag in the woman's trunk and suggested that it had never come out of the bag, saying there was nothing other than the badge to indicate that she was a law enforcement officer.

But the judge said it was his belief that the badge was not inside of the bag but on top of the bag, adding that he believed Rosa acted in conformity with her training and showed Gonzalez her badge early that morning.

At the end of the hearing, the judge said the badge would be turned over to Rosa's partner, whose eyes brimmed with emotion as it was handed to her.

Flint had sought re-sentencing as a result of a recent change in state law that has resulted in some defendants who were convicted of murder and other charges being released from prison.

Patrick Connolly -- a current Los Angeles Superior Court judge and a former prosecutor on the Flint and Gonzalez case -- unsuccessfully sought earlier this year to have Lowenthal disqualified from presiding over the hearing.

In a 2010 ruling that upheld Flint's conviction, a state appeals court panel noted that he sang the title line of the Bob Marley song "I Shot the Sheriff" while behind bars.

Flint unsuccessfully claimed in that appeal that the trial court wrongly prevented him from eliciting testimony to explain why he was fearful of a beating by sheriff's deputies while he was in jail and from fully explaining why he sang the song to show that he would defend himself against such a beating, according to the 2010 ruling.

The California Supreme Court upheld Gonzalez's conviction and death sentence in a ruling last year.

The state's highest court noted in its 75-page ruling that Gonzalez informed multiple agents during an undercover operation following his arrest on unrelated charges that he had shot a female police officer.

"Gonzalez also disclosed numerous details about the crime, explaining (among other things) that he had left a bicycle at the scene, that he had thrown the murder weapon into the water and that he had not left any footprints because the crime occurred on pavement," Justice Joshua P. Groban wrote on behalf of the panel.

That ruling noted that Gonzalez and Flint "were also heard discussing killing any witnesses to the murder, and Flint stated that the victim would not have been killed if she had given up her wallet."

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