2003-04-19 04:00:00 PDT Modesto -- A fugitive parolee wanted in connection with the shooting death of a Pittsburg police officer was gunned down late Thursday at a Modesto shopping center in an exchange of gunfire with officers, authorities said Friday.

Officers acting on a tip provided by the girlfriend of 40-year-old Earl Foster Jr., wanted for questioning in the death of homicide Inspector Ray Giacomelli, spotted him using a pay phone at the College Center Shopping Center shortly after 11 p.m., police said.

Foster had been the subject of an intense manhunt since Tuesday when Giacomelli, 46, was found shot to death in a house in Pittsburg that is owned by Foster's family. The 23-year veteran of the force had gone to the house on Abbott Avenue alone to investigate a killing that had taken place there a week before.

Modesto police Sgt. Ed Steele said officers from several agencies had approached Foster in the shopping center and had been shouting commands to him when he opened fire with a Glock semiautomatic pistol.

Error 0:

The first officer to fire back -- wounding Foster -- was Kirk Bunch, an investigator with the Stanislaus County district attorney's office who was once a Pittsburg police officer, according to a source close to the case.

"Ironic, isn't it?" said Leo Baller, Giacomelli's former partner in Pittsburg, after learning the details of Thursday's gunbattle.

As Foster lay wounded, authorities called for backup from the Modesto Police Department.

"Four Modesto officers began to approach him," Steele said. "They noticed he was looking at them and had a gun in his hand. He raised the gun and shot once. They fired back, and he didn't shoot any more."

Foster was pronounced dead minutes later at a Modesto hospital. None of the officers involved in the shooting was injured. At least five of them were placed on standard leave pending an investigation of the shooting.

"Mr. Foster's violent life has destroyed a family, destroyed the Giacomelli family and devastated an entire community in the city of Pittsburg," said Pittsburg Police Chief Aaron Baker at a news conference in Modesto. "His days of hurting people, of being violent with people, are over."

Asked about Foster's motive for firing on police, Baker said, "He was a three-striker. He was going back (to prison). He had nothing to lose."

Foster had a long criminal history, including numerous drug offenses, parole violations and a 1980 manslaughter conviction in juvenile court.

Contra Costa sheriff's Lt. Dan Terry, who is assisting in the case, said police had compiled a list of places in the East Bay and central California where Foster was expected to hide out. A home in Modesto near the shopping center was one of them, he said.

"We gave him every opportunity to give himself up," Terry said Friday. "He chose not to do so."

Authorities believe Giacomelli was caught off guard and shot almost immediately upon entering the Foster family home Tuesday. He had received the key to the residence from the suspect's father along with permission to search it. Officials said they think the detective believed he was searching an empty house.

"Ray didn't even get a chance to get his gun drawn," Baller said.

The Contra Costa County coroner's office said Giacomelli had been shot several times. A source close to the investigation said it appeared that Giacomelli had been shot in the face and then again while the detective was lying on the floor near the front of the home. Authorities have termed his death an "execution."

On Thursday, police in San Francisco found Foster's gold Mercedes-Benz parked at an apartment building. He was driving a black Acura when officers discovered him in Modesto.

A woman who identified herself as Foster's mother but refused to give her name visited the crime scene Friday and took pictures of bloodstains and bullet holes in storefronts and parked cars. She said authorities had not officially notified her of her son's death.

Baller, who is handling the media on behalf of Giacomelli's wife and two daughters, said Foster's death offered the inspector's family "some closure."

"The main reaction that they had to me was, 'Did anybody get hurt?' " Baller said. "And when I told them no, they said, 'At least he won't hurt anybody else.' "

Funeral services for Giacomelli will be held at noon Monday at the Good Shepherd Church in Pittsburg.