The California Supreme Court unanimously agreed Thursday to vacate a man’s conviction for the June 1983 killing of a Los Angeles police officer in Lake View Terrace.

In a 49-page ruling, the state’s highest court concluded that Kenneth Earl Gay, now 62, was “denied his constitutional right to the assistance of competent counsel” during the guilt phase of his trial, in which he was convicted of murdering Officer Paul Verna.

The justices noted that the prosecution has the “opportunity to retry Gay if they so choose.”

Earlier, the California Supreme Court had twice overturned Gay’s death sentence for the June 2, 1983, slaying during a traffic stop in a residential neighborhood.

In the latest ruling, Supreme Court Justice Leondra R. Kruger wrote that the performance by Gay’s attorney, Daye Shinn — who was later disbarred — “has been shown to be deficient in multiple respects,” including his decision to advise Gay to confess to his involvement in a series of robberies for no evident strategic reason and without a firm deal in place that would have barred the prosecution from introducing the confessions against him during his trial.

Shinn “relied largely on the prosecution’s witnesses, who collectively provided only limited help to the theory of the defense,” according to the ruling.

The panel determined that it “cannot say Gay’s murder conviction was the product of a trustworthy adversarial process.”

“Defense counsel obtained appointment to represent Gay through fraud, counseled him to make damaging confessions to the prosecution without safeguards to ensure the confessions would not be used without a deal (while deceiving him as to whether such safeguards were in place) and failed to conduct a timely investigation into available testimony from eyewitnesses who would have exculpated Gay and peace officers who would have inculpated Gay’s co-defendant, Raynard Cummings,” Kruger wrote on behalf of the panel.

“Defense counsel’s multiple failings are, in combination, of sufficient gravity to overcome the strong presumption of reliability accorded final judgments and to undermine our ability to place faith in the jury’s determination that Gay shot Officer Paul Verna.”

Gay’s first death sentence in 1985 for Verna’s shooting death was overturned in 1998 by the California Supreme Court, which agreed that he had not received “constitutionally adequate representation” during his first trial and ordered a retrial in the penalty phase of his case.

When he was sentenced a second time to death in December 2000, Gay maintained he “never murdered anyone.”

“What this decision really was was an insult” to the Verna family, Gay said then, while turning to look at the LAPD motorcycle officer’s widow and two sons. “It has been 17 years and you folks still haven’t heard the truth about what happened to your loved one.”

Gay lashed out at the judge for refusing to let the defense present evidence he said could have cleared him, calling it “a travesty that this court would rule that the evidence of my innocence is irrelevant.”

He said then that he would admit it if he were responsible for Verna’s killing and that he owed the slain officer’s family an apology for not having the courage to stand up to Cummings, who is also on death row for the officer’s shooting death.

Gay urged the officer’s family to push the District Attorney’s Office to go forward with a new trial for him, with the proviso that he agree to waive all but the mandatory appeal if he is convicted.

“I believe in my innocence strongly enough to risk my life,” Gay said in the December 2000 hearing. He told the court he had spent all but 20 years of his life in prison and could spend another 18 to 20 waiting for the appeals process to run its course.

Prosecutors contend that Cummings fired first at Verna, then passed the gun to Gay.

Verna had stopped the car in which the two were riding in the San Fernando Valley, and prosecutors alleged that they killed the officer to avoid arrest for a series of robberies in the weeks preceding the traffic stop.

Superior Court Judge L. Jeffrey Wiatt — who committed suicide in February 2005 in a Santa Clarita park in the midst of a phone conversation with law enforcement officials over allegations of child abuse — said when he sentenced Gay in December 2000 that he didn’t think there was any question that Gay fired the final five shots at Verna.

In 2008, the California Supreme Court again overturned Gay’s death sentence, finding that Wiatt had erred by barring Gay from offering “significant mitigating evidence” during the penalty phase of his retrial, including four statements in which Cummings claimed that he was the sole shooter.

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