After three years of legal maneuvering and a quest by the defense for what a prosecutor called "perfect justice," Joselito (Jerry) Cinco is scheduled go on trial today in Westminster in the 1984 slayings of two San Diego police officers, including the city's first policewoman killed in the line of duty.
If convicted of first-degree murder in the Sept. 14, 1984, killings of Officers Timothy Ruopp, 31, and Kimberly Tonahill, 24, Cinco could receive the death penalty.
The 28-year-old Cinco is also charged with the attempted murder of Officer Gary Mitrovich, 29, who was wounded when he responded to the nighttime shootings in an area of San Diego's Balboa Park called Grape Street Park.
Defense attorney John G. Cotsirilos estimates that the trial will last three months. Cotsirilos declined to discuss the defense he has planned for his client. However, he does not deny that Cinco killed the two officers and wounded Mitrovich.
"I don't think it's any secret that Mr. Cinco did not deny the shootings. The issue will be, why did he do it and what was the intent. We're denying that it was a premeditated and deliberate act," Cotsirilos said.
2 Did Not Draw Revolvers
Tonahill, who was single and lived in La Mesa, had been on the force for 11 months when she was shot four times by Cinco, who fired a 9-millimeter automatic pistol. She died minutes after being shot. Ruopp, a member of the force for 2 1/2 years and father of four children younger than 6, was shot once in the face. He died two days later. Mitrovich, a 7 1/2-year veteran of the department, was wounded in the shoulder and is back on the force.
Ruopp and Tonahill did not have a chance to draw their service revolvers before they were shot.
The incident began at 11 p.m. on a Friday night when Ruopp stopped his cruiser next to a Mustang convertible parked in the park. Standing outside the convertible were Cinco, Victor Casillas, the owner of the Mustang, and two girls who were 15 and 16 at the time. Cinco and Casillas, 26, were drinking whiskey from a paper cup, said Gina Hensel, now 19. Hensel was Cinco's date that night.
After placing the two girls in the back of his patrol car, Ruopp began to write misdemeanor citations to the two men for drinking in a public park. Moments earlier, Ruopp had called for a backup, and Tonahill arrived while Ruopp wrote out the ticket, Hensel said.
The two officers conferred for a while before Tonahill approached Cinco. A police report said Tonahill checked Cinco for weapons, but Hensel said she never saw Tonahill search him. Tonahill followed Cinco, who walked around the back of the car, to the rear seat on the driver's side.
Escaped Into Canyon
According to Hensel, Cinco leaned into the car and came out with a handgun, which he fired four times at Tonahill at point-blank range. Police said Cinco then turned and fired at Ruopp, who was standing a few feet away, hitting him once in the face. Mitrovich, who was on patrol nearby, heard the shots and drove to the scene. Cinco fired several shots at Mitrovich, wounding him in the shoulder, police said.
Investigators said that Mitrovich fired five times at Cinco but missed. Cinco and Casillas escaped into the brush of a nearby canyon. A massive police search ensued, and Casillas was found at 3:07 a.m. Cinco was found at 6:45 a.m., hiding in the bottom of the canyon in a pool of water.
The district attorney's office decided not to file charges against Casillas. Almost 11 months after the killings, San Diego County Superior Court Judge William Low granted Cinco a change of venue, based on pretrial publicity, and the trial was moved to Orange County.
Because of legal maneuvering, two trial dates in 1985 were delayed before Orange County Superior Court Judge Luis A. Cardenas set today's trial date.
Thirty-eight months after the shootings, few people in San Diego remember the double homicide. But the shootings occurred six months after Police Agent Thomas Riggs, who was Ruopp's brother-in-law, was killed and Police Agent Donovan Jacobs was wounded. Sagon Penn faced two highly publicized trials in that shooting case and was acquitted.
Highest Police Mortality Rate
The deaths of Tonahill and Ruopp, however, added to the statistics showing San Diego as having the highest police mortality rate of all big U.S. cities.
Had it not been for the Penn case, Cinco could have received a fair trial in San Diego, Cotsirilos contends.
"But it was a fairly traumatized community when we asked for a change of venue. . . . My case is very different from Mr. Penn's. There was a situation where Mr. Penn was minding his own business and was provoked and attacked by the police. Obviously, our situation is very different," Cotsirilos said.