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Family of fallen officers to testify in penalty phase of cop-killer trial

Felix trial penalty phase day 2

INDIO, Calif.- - Family members of two fallen officers killed in a fusillade of bullets from an AR-15 rifle will testified Wednesday before jurors and 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.

Jake Ingrassia has been in Indio court since day one of the trial and is in the courtroom today. Follow his live notes from court below:

 


   
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 punishments.
   
``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 case.''


   
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 sentence.
   
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.


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