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Felons charged with murder in 1980 shooting of Orange County deputy

November 19, 2010 | 11:41 am

Two men who served prison sentences for the attempted murder of an Orange County sheriff's deputy three decades ago have been charged with his murder after the paralyzed ex-cop died of his injuries, authorities said Friday.

Deputy Ira Essoe's legs were amputated as a result of the November 1980 shooting. After he died early this year, medical experts found it was due to the bullet wounds, leading Orange police and Orange County prosecutors to reopen the investigation into the shooting.

David Michael Knick, 54, of Yucca Valley and Robert Duston Strong, 55, of Riverside were arrested Thursday after prosecutors charged them with murder. They have already been convicted of the November 1980 attempted murder of Essoe, who was shot and paralyzed in a mall parking lot.

Essoe and Deputy Greg Brown were on-duty in plain clothes in an unmarked vehicle when they saw three men in the mall parking lot standing in front of the raised hood of a yellow Mustang. A few minutes later, the deputies saw them standing next a black Mustang with an open hood.

When Essoe and Brown confronted the men, Strong pointed a gun at Brown and demanded that he put his firearm on the ground, prosecutors said. As soon as Brown placed his gun on the ground, Essoe was shot twice in the back.

Brown was able to duck for cover behind a parked car as Strong and Knick stole the deputies' firearms and fled in the unmarked patrol car.

A third man, David Vogel, 63, of Riverside, fled on foot and was not charged. About an hour later, Knick and Strong led the California Highway Patrol on a high-speed chase during which they fired at officers and crashed the unmarked cruiser.

Jurors convicted Strong in 1981 of felony attempted murder, possession of a firearm by a felon and auto theft, and two felony counts each of assault with a deadly weapon and auto burglary. He was sentenced to 17 years and four months in state prison and served a decade.

The next month, Knick was convicted of attempted murder, auto theft, possession of a firearm by a felon, and two felony counts each of assault with a deadly weapon and auto burglary. He received 16 years and eight months in state prison and served about nine years.

The shooting left Essoe paralyzed and suffering for three decades because of serious medical complications that resulted in the amputation of both of his legs, according to prosecutors.

"I've been given a life sentence, and I accept that because I chose my job," Essoe told the Times in 1988. "What I can't accept is that [one of the men] does half a sentence and walks off."

The shooting ended a law enforcement career for which he had given up a lucrative job in the computer field, Essoe told The Times. It also deprived him of the experience of working alongside his two sons and his son-in-law, all of whom became Orange County sheriff's deputies, and his only daughter, who by 1998 was a deputy trainee.

A bedridden Essoe died in February of the blood disease sepsis, caused by bed sores.

If convicted, Knick and Strong each face a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in state prison. They are being held in lieu of $1-million bail and were due in Santa Ana court Friday morning.

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-- Richard Winton

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