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Testimony Continues In Penalty Phase Of Trial For Convicted Palm Springs Cop Killer

   INDIO (CNS) - Family members of two fallen officers killed in a
fusillade of bullets from an AR-15 rifle will testify today (Wednesday) before jurors
the 28-year-old man convicted of the attack.
   On Tuesday, surviving officers took the stand in the penalty phase of
John Hernandez Felix's trial, in which jurors must decide between the death
sentence or life without parole. The same jurors convicted the 28-year-old
Felix Monday of two counts of first-degree murder, along with six counts of
attempted murder stemming from the shots he fired at other officers outside the
defendant's family home in the 2700 block of Cypress Avenue, where they had
gone in response to a domestic disturbance call.
   Officer Jose Gilbert Vega, 63, and Officer Lesley Zerebny, 27, were
both killed in the attack.
   Before witnesses began testimony Tuesday, attorneys from both sides
made opening statements in favor of their suggested punishment.
   Felix's defense attorney Jacob DeVane argued that jurors should spare
his client from the death sentence as the Palm Springs man has intellectual
disabilities, while a prosecutor said the convict deserves the severest of
   ``Guilt does not equal punishment,'' DeVane told jurors. ``Mr. Felix
is not the worst of the worst even in light of the crimes you have convicted
him for.''
   DeVane said factors such as Felix's auditory processing disorder --
which he described as a mental defect -- along with a below-average IQ and drug
use during the 2016 attack should all be considered mitigating evidence.
   ``You are not deciding guilt or innocence,'' DeVane told jurors. ``But
what you are deciding is what would be the appropriate punishment in this
   Deputy District Attorney Michelle Paradise countered that the killings
of two police officers warranted the death penalty.
   ``As a society, we establish laws and punishments that reflect those
values that we hold dearest to us,'' she said. ``And, we reserve the most
severe punishment -- the death penalty -- for those crimes that tear, literally
rip apart, the fabric of our community. Those crimes that prey upon the
innocent, and in this case, the heroic.''
   Paradise said Felix preyed on ``the honorable'' and ``the
outstanding,'' and said the ``true motive'' behind the shooting was ``his
hatred for law enforcement.'' She also pointed to his criminal past, noting
that he previously served four years in prison, and said the death penalty is
the most appropriate punishment.
   Felix was also convicted of unlawful possession of an assault weapon,
unlawful weapon possession by a prohibited person and unlawful possession of
ammunition. The jurors rejected 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, opening Felix to the possible death
   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.