Essoe died this year from what officials say were complications from injuries suffered during that shooting.
Now those two men, 55-year-old Robert Strong and 54-year-old David Knick, were back in court facing murder charges.
"It is rare, but the law provides for us to prosecute these kind of cases," said Scott Simmons, a senior deputy district attorney.
"There is a sense of relief that the justice system is working," said Sgt. Ira Essoe, the victim's son.
Authorities said Knick, Strong and another accomplice were stealing a car outside a mall in Orange in 1980 when Essoe and his partner approached them.
Strong pointed a gun at Essoe's partner demanding he put his firearm down. Essoe was then shot twice in the back. He was left paralyzed.
The defendants took the deputies guns and drove off in the patrol car. They were arrested after a pursuit.
Essoe's children, who went into law enforcement, say Essoe was confined to a wheelchair from the age of 40 until he died at 69.
"He was in and out of the hospital repeated times," the victim's son said. "We thought we were going to lose him several times before this."
Knick's daughter came to court to support her father.
"He's a good citizen, he's a pastor, he's a Christian. He has kids, he has a family," Amber Surface said. "He's already paid for his mistakes."
"I have no sympathy for them," the victim's son said.
If convicted, each could face up to 25 years to life in prison.
They remain in custody for now on $1 million bail.