After Guilty Verdict Monday, Penalty Phase Begins In Trial Of Convicted Palm Springs Cop Killer
INDIO (CNS) - Jurors are scheduled to hear testimony today (Tuesday) in the penalty phase of trial for a 28-year-old man who sprayed bullets from an AR-15 rifle at Palm Springs police officers standing outside his family's home, killing two.
John Hernandez Felix faces a possible death sentence for the Oct. 8, 2016, killings of Officer Jose Gilbert Vega, 63, and Officer Lesley Kling Zerebny, 27. On top of first-degree murder, jurors Monday also convicted Felix of six counts of attempted murder, stemming from the shots he fired at the other
officers outside the home in the 2700 block of Cypress Avenue, where they had gone in response to a domestic disturbance call.
The trial now moves to the penalty phase, in which jurors will be
asked to recommend whether Felix should be sentenced to death or life in prison
without the possibility of parole.
On Monday, the verdict was read in an Indio courtroom packed with
relatives of the victims, along with law enforcement officers from various
agencies. Felix showed no emotion as the verdicts were read.
In addition to the murder and attempted murder charges, jurors also
convicted Felix of unlawful possession of an assault weapon, unlawful weapon
possession by a prohibited person and unlawful possession of ammunition, while
rejecting allegations that Felix was wearing body armor during the shooting.
They also found true special-circumstance allegations of murder of a
peace officer and multiple murders.
Deputy District Attorney Manny Bustamante argued during the trial that
Felix fired 21 shots from inside his family's home as police stood outside.
He said Felix carried out an intentional ``ambush'' on police, who had been
called to the home 37 times previously due to his erratic behavior.
Felix also had a previous conviction for assault.
During closing arguments Thursday, defense attorney John Dolan
contended that at worst, Felix should be convicted of voluntary manslaughter.
While conceding that Felix's actions were ``horrible,'' Dolan argued his
client's auditory processing disorder and intense emotions -- combined with
methamphetamine use -- created a ``perfect storm'' of irrational decision-
``It affects your brain, it eats your brain,'' Dolan said of the drug
for which Felix tested positive 15 hours after the shooting.
Even before the shooting, Dolan said, all three family members in the
Felix home said the suspect was not ``recognizable'' that day.
``This is the difference between being rational and being
irrational,'' Dolan said. ``Between premeditation, deliberation and malice
aforethought, and unplanned irrational, disorganized. That's what this case is
about in a nutshell.''
Bustamante argued that the defense -- in part through the testimony of
Felix's relatives -- was ``minimizing'' the defendant's actions.
``The defendant was a ticking time bomb leading up to that day,'' the
Vega and Zerebny were the first Palm Springs police officers killed in
the line of duty since Jan. 1, 1962, when Officer Lyle Wayne Larrabee died
during a vehicle pursuit. The only other death in the department was that of
Officer Gale Gene Eldridge, who was fatally shot on Jan. 18, 1961, while
investigating an armed robbery.
Vega had been with the department 35 years -- five years past his
retirement eligibility -- and had planned to retire in 2018. He had eight
children, 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Zerebny had been with
the department for 18 months and had just returned to duty following maternity
leave, having given birth to a daughter, Cora, four months earlier.