Family of Officer Vega testifies in penalty phase of convicted cop-killer

Officer Vega's family testifies in penal

INDIO, Calif.- - The family of a veteran police officer killed in the line of duty testified Tuesday morning in the penalty phase of the man convicted of his murder.

Palm Springs Police Officers Jose Gilbert Vega, 63, and Lesley Zerebny, 27, were killed Oct. 8, 2016, when John Hernandez Felix, 28, fired an AR-15 rifle from inside his family's home in the 2700 block of Cypress Avenue, where they had gone in response to a domestic disturbance call.

Felix was found guilty of their murder on May 20, 2019.

In total, he 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 also found Felix guilty of special-circumstance allegations of murder of a peace officer and multiple murders, which opens Felix to a possible death sentence.



Jurors are being asked in the penalty phase of trial to recommend either a death sentence or life in prison without parole for Felix.

Last week, Zerebny's sister and husband testified, as well as Palm Springs officers who injured during the incident.

On Tuesday, numerous members of Vega's family took the stand.

Andrea Murray, Officer Vega's stepdaughter 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.''

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.''

Vega, 63, 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.

Check out our coverage from the first week of testimony in the penalty phase:

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