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Marine convicted of killing officer has death sentence reduced to life in prison

September 21, 2010 |  2:58 pm

A Marine sentenced to die for killing an officer at Camp Pendleton in 1996 has had his sentence reduced to life in prison with the possibility of parole, Marine officials said Tuesday.

Jessie A. Quintanilla has been in various military brigs, prisons and hospitals since being convicted of murder in the fatal shooting of Lt. Col. Daniel Kidd and attempted murder in the shooting of Lt. Col. Thomas Heffner.

The incident took place at the Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 39 space at Camp Pendleton on March 5, 1996.

Quintanilla, who was a supply sergeant, shot Kidd, the squadron's executive officer, at point blank range and then wounded Heffner, the squadron commander.

According to testimony at his court martial, Quintanilla was drunk at the time of the shooting, beset by family and financial problems, and angry at a poor job evaluation and being denied a spot as a recruiter.

Quintanilla surrendered within minutes of the shooting, telling other Marines, "I did it for the brotherhood and the brown side. This is only the beginning. We have a hit lit." He had several tattoos associated with street gangs.

Quintanilla, a native of Guam who grew up in Long Beach, was convicted and sentenced to death by a court martial jury of seven officers and five enlistees. 

Until his resentencing, he had been one of nine military personnel awaiting execution, most of them at the military prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan. The last Marine execution was in 1817.

In 2006, a military appeals court set aside the death penalty decision and sent the case back to Camp Pendleton for a  new sentencing hearing. The appeals court ruled that the trial judge had acted improperly when he allowed the prosecution to eliminate from the jury pool an enlisted Marine because of an allegedly inflexible attitude against capital punishment.

But the sentencing hearing was delayed when Quintanilla was found by military doctors to be a paranoid schizophrenic and unable to assist in his own defense.

After treatment and medication, Quintanilla, now 42, was found competent. The new sentencing was an agreement between prosecutors, defense attorneys and the air-wing commanding officer. In exchange for lifting the death penalty, Quintanilla waived his right to further appeals of his conviction.

As part of his conviction, Quintanilla was reduced in rank to private. The resentencing took place Sept. 9 and was announced Tuesday by the Marine Corps.

-- Tony Perry in San Diego