INDIO, Calif. - After more than two years, opening statements began and wrapped up Wednesday in the guilt phase of the court case for John Hernandez Felix, the man accused of gunning down Palm Springs police officers Jose "Gil" Vega and Lesley Zerebny.
Testimony is set to begin Wednesday afternoon.
Vega and Zerebny were ambushed at Felix's home in Palm Springs on October 8, 2016, while responding to a domestic disturbance call.
Felix, 28, is charged with two counts of murder and six counts of attempted murder, with special circumstance allegations of killing police officers and committing multiple murders, making him eligible for the death penalty if convicted.
Jake Ingrassia is in the courtroom at Larson Justice Center in Indio. Follow his notes from inside the room below:
At a pre-trial hearing last week, prosecutors gave glimpses of what the trial could hold, including gruesome crime scene photos to be presented to the jury and a possible motive for why the murders were committed.
As testimony finally gets underway, the families of the fallen officers say justice is all they hope to see.
"It's been two years of this -- two years of (Felix) trying every angle to save himself," said Issac Vega, Officer Vega's son.
The trial comes after a string of delays connected to defense motions regarding Felix's mental fitness, including an argument alleging he has intellectual disabilities that should preclude him from execution if jurors recommend the death penalty.
"He was reaching," Isaac Vega said. "He was just reaching for anything and everything he could to just get him off the death penalty."
Criminal proceedings were previously suspended for six months in 2017 when Felix's attorneys, John Dolan and Jacob Devane, sought to have him declared mentally incompetent to stand trial.
In October, prosecutors revealed Felix once dreamed of becoming a police officer himself, and aspired to study criminal justice.
"It's unbelievable to understand that he wanted to be a cop at one point and then the next thing, taking the life of a police officer and affecting everything that went with that," Isaac Vega said. "Just amazing."
District Attorney Mike Hestrin said Felix intended to kill police, wearing body armor and firing an AR-15 through a screen door.
"So much pain has been brought upon us from him and to see him being joyful and excited or showing any kind of happiness, it hurts," Isaac Vega said. "It hurts because I can't see that from my father anymore. It was taken from us and here he still has that ability. Even in jail there's some joy in life and that's what I'd really like to take from him -- is the joy."
As Governor Newsom suspended death penalty executions statewide last month, District Attorney Hestrin said the decision won't impact death penalty cases such as Felix's.
"The law of the state is still going to be that we have a death penalty," Hestrin said. "And so we're going to proceed on death penalty cases and we're going to continue to seek the death penalty where appropriate."
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