Suspects in professors death could get death penalty

Charges that could lead to the death penalty were added Monday against four alleged members of a Skyline-area car burglary ring accused in the 1995 shooting death of a UCSD professor who tried to stop a theft.

Edul Jinnah Azeez, 35, Khoi Leron Bruster, 32, Alvin Mamangun Timbol, 32, and Alvin Moreno Figuracion, 30, are charged with murder, auto burglary and special circumstance allegations of murder during a burglary and murder during a robbery, said Deputy District Attorney James Koerber.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis will decide in the coming weeks whether any or all of the defendants will face the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.

The defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges at their Superior Court arraignment today. Judge Robert Trentacosta set a Sept. 15 status conference to review the case.

Timbol was identified as the gunman who allegedly shot David Hessler, who worked for the UCSD School of Medicine, on Nov. 14, 1995, retired San Diego police Detective John Tefft testified at a July 13 preliminary hearing.

A fifth defendant, Buzie Gene Weimer, 33, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in exchange for his testimony.

In questioning the defendants earlier this year, Azeez and Weimer both identified Timbol as the one who allegedly fired at Hessler, Tefft said.

The 30-year-old victim went to investigate suspicious sounds around 2:15 a.m. outside the home he shared with his fiancee on Huggins Street in University City and chased the defendants away, Tefft said.

Tefft said Azeez admitted being the getaway driver.

“He described where one of the men in the vehicle fired back at the victim’’ as they fled in his car, Tefft said.

Figuracion, who was 16 years old at the time, said Timbol later told him to “be quiet, keep your mouth shut, words to that effect.’'

The defendants all lived in the Skyline area at the time and attended Morse High School, and all but Figuracion were part of a crew that committed car burglaries, Tefft said.

The youngest defendant had allegedly joined them for the first time the night Hessler was killed, Tefft said.

Under the felony murder rule, all the defendants are liable for the murder of Hessler because they were allegedly committing a car burglary at the time.

Tefft testified that Weimer at first told investigators that Figuracion stayed in the getaway car and did not take part in the burglary.

Tefft said after Weimer reached his plea deal, he told investigators he saw Figuracion beside Hessler’s car holding a screwdriver.

At the end of the preliminary hearing, Judge Michael Wellington said the evidence against Figuracion was the “weakest and slimmest’’ of the defendants, and a jury would have a basis for doubting the second version.

A review of fingerprint evidence from the crime scene led detectives to Weimer in February 2008 and the defendants were arrested in May 2009.