Man found guilty for murders of PSPD officers

Felix found guilty for murders of PSPD officers

INDIO, Calif.- - John Hernandez Felix has been found guilty on all counts for in the 2016 murders of Palm Springs Police Officers Jose "Gil" Vega and Lesley Zerebny.

The 28-year-old shot and killed the two officers who responded to a domestic disturbance call in October 2016 at his family home on the 2700 block of Cypress Avenue.

Felix was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder for the fatal shootings of Palm Springs Police Officers Jose "Gil" Vega and Lesley Zerebny.

He was also found guilty of the special circumstance allegations of murdering police officers and committing multiple murders, making him eligible for the death penalty.

Felix was found guilty of six counts of attempted murder of a peace officer. PSPD officers Burton, Vargas, Flinn, Farley, Etchason, and Serrano were injured by gunfire while responding to the same incident.



The jury also found Felix guilty for a charge of unlawful possession of an assault weapon, a charge of unlawful possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, and a charge of unlawful possession of ammunition by a prohibited person.



The verdict was reached on Monday morning, following two days of deliberations. 

The trial will now enter the penalty phase. The jurors will return to the Larson Justice Center at 10 a.m. Tuesday.  Attorneys will return at 9 a.m. for jury instructions.

Prosecutors said following the verdict-reading that they intended to call witnesses all day Tuesday and half of Wednesday. The defense plans to call witnesses for the remainder of Wednesday and all of Thursday. 

Riverside County District Attorney's Office public information officer John Hall issued media advisory confirming the verdict reading.


Excerpted from Hall's release:

"The DA’s Office filed two counts of murder with special circumstance allegations of the murder of a peace officer and multiple murders, six counts of attempted murder of a peace officer, and one count each of possession of an assault weapon, possession of a prohibited firearm and ammunition, and being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. The special circumstance allegations attached to the murder counts made the defendant eligible for the death penalty. DA Mike Hestrin is seeking the death penalty in this case. During closing arguments Thursday, Defense attorney John Dolan recommended jurors find his client John Felix Hernandez guilty not of murder but of two counts of voluntary manslaughter, six counts of attempted voluntary manslaughter and three felony firearm possession counts."

On October 8, 2016, Felix fired an AR-15 rifle at veteran Officer Jose Gilbert Vega, 63, and rookie Officer Lesley Zerebny, 27, from inside the Felix family home in the 2700 block of Cypress Avenue on, killing both.

While conceding that Felix's actions were "horrible,'' Dolan had argued his client's auditory processing disorder and intense emotions created a "perfect storm'' of irrational decision-making when methamphetamine was added to the mix.

"It affects your brain, it eats your brain,'' Dolan said of the drug for which Felix tested positive 15 hours after the shooting. 

Side effects of the quantities of meth believed to be in Felix's bloodstream at the time of the shooting include inhibited planning, organization, emotional control and judgment, defense witness Dr. Marjorie 
Graham-Howard testified during the trial, Dolan reminded jurors.

The witness also testified the drug "can impact one's reality in understanding what is real and what is not.''

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 of forethought, and unplanned irrational, disorganized. That's what this case is about in a nutshell.''

Deputy District Attorney Manny 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 prosecutor said.

Bustamante reviewed for jurors the 37 times law enforcement had been called to the Cypress Avenue home as a result of Felix's erratic behavior, as well as the felony assault conviction already on his record.

Bustamante also highlighted the moments leading up to the shooting.

"He didn't shoot the mom. He didn't shoot the house,'' Bustamante said, recounting the minutes before Margarita Felix -- the defendant's mother -- called law enforcement to the house for a domestic disturbance stemming from her hostile son. "He knew his limits.''

After the mother called the police, there was a 45-minute period in which Felix "barricaded himself inside that house. He has choices to make,'' Bustamante said.

Instead of de-escalation, the defendant began an intentional "ambush'' on police, the prosecutor said.

Before jurors left the courtroom to begin deliberations, the prosecutor reminded the jury that there is no instruction regarding rationality -- which he defined as agreeable to reason and sensible -- for any of the charges.

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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