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Testimony wraps in penalty phase of cop-killer's trial

Testimony wraps in penalty phase of cop-

INDIO, Calif.- - Testimony came to a close Wednesday in the penalty phase of the trial for a man who gunned down two Palm Springs police officers by firing an AR-15 rifle from inside his family's home.   

The defense called two witnesses to the stand during their part of testimony, which began and ended for them on Thursday.

Jury instructions will be given at 3 p.m. Closing arguments are set for Thursday morning at 9 a.m. 


John Felix Hernandez, 28, was convicted May 20 of killing veteran Officer Jose Gilbert ``Gil'' Vega, 63, and rookie officer Lesley Zerebny, 27, on Oct. 8, 2016. The officers were shot a s they responded to a domestic disturbance call from the Hernandez family home in the 2700 block of Cypress Avenue.
   
Jurors are being asked during the penalty phase of trial to recommend either a death sentence or life in prison without the chance of parole for Felix.

Jake Ingrassia has been in court since day one of the trial providing up-to-the-minute updates. Following his live notes from court below:


   
On Tuesday, Vega's stepdaughter testified that the lawman brought joy into her mother's life, and she was devastated when her husband died.
   
Andrea Murray recalled her mother's reaction the day Vega was killed.
   
``She says, `Mija, what am I gonna do now? What am I gonna do without my husband?''' Murray said of her mother.
   
Murray said her mother's ``whole demeanor'' changed when she began seeing Vega in the early 2000s.


   
``Her smile was even different a little,'' Murray said. ``Happiness just started trickling into her life.''
   
Vega was killed just months before he was set to retire after three decades of service.
   
Vega was the second-to-youngest of 10 siblings. All six boys in the family had the first name Jose, the officer's brother, Jose Hector Vega, testified.


   
Jose Hector Vega said his brother had always been shy as a child, but becoming a police officer helped him ``tremendously'' to become more outgoing. He also said he had been trying to convince his police officer brother to retire for years, worrying the job was too dangerous.
   
``I feel guilty ... because I couldn't convince him,'' Jose Hector Vega told jurors. ``He loved his job. He would always tell me that. He loved his job.''


   
Jose Gilbert Vega's son, Gilbert, said he learned a lot from his father.
   
``He was fair to me in everything he did,'' Gilbert Vega said.
   
Felix was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, six counts of attempted murder, unlawful possession of an assault weapon, unlawful weapon possession by a prohibited person and unlawful possession of ammunition. Jurors found true special circumstance allegations of murder of a peace officer and multiple murders, opening Felix to the possible death sentence.


   
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.
   
One of Felix's attorneys, Jacob Devane, argued last week that jurors should spare his client from the death penalty, saying the Palm Springs man has intellectual disabilities.
   
Deputy District Attorney Michelle Paradise countered that the killings of two police officers warranted the death penalty.


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