A prosecutor said Monday the evidence against a man accused of killing five people in 2014 — four of them during a five-day shooting spree in the San Fernando Valley — included blood and bits of body tissue found scattered around his SUV.
A defense attorney made only a brief statement at the start of Monday’s preliminary hearing for Alexander Hernandez, telling Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephen A. Marcus that the case involved “significant and complex mental state questions.”
Hernandez, 36, of Sylmar, is charged with the murders of Sergio Sanchez on March 14, 2014; Gilardo Morales on Aug. 21, 2014; and Gloria Tovar, Michael Planells and Mariana Franco on Aug. 24, 2014.
Hernandez is also charged with 11 attempted murders, seven of which took place from Aug. 20-24, 2014.
During that same period, the defendant is charged with shooting two dogs to death in Pacoima, at the home of a good Samaritan who, about 10 days earlier, had helped Hernandez, a stranger, jump-start his SUV.
Most of the victims were driving — including home from prom or work, to church and en route to a fishing trip with their kids on Father’s Day — when they noticed a vehicle following them or pulling up alongside.
In most of the cases, the vehicle was Hernandez’s tan Chevrolet Suburban, according to Deputy District Attorney Michele Hanisee. The SUV was identifiable by a hood that didn’t close properly, stickers of “a white skull” and “666” on the back of the vehicle, its custom six-spoked rims and other unique details, the prosecutor said.
Housing for a side view mirror found at the Morales crime scene was matched to the Suburban, according to the prosecution.
But more gruesome links were also found by crime scene investigators, including “blood and bits of tissue” from Tovar’s skull — large enough to be “visible to the naked eye” — found in the Suburban, Hanisee told the judge.
Tovar, 59, was shot to death while in her car in Pacoima, waiting to pick up a friend to go to church, according to the prosecutor.
“Her skull was basically blown off and blown to pieces,” Hanisee said, showing photos that she had altered to block images she said were too graphic.
Franco, 22, was driving with her parents when a gunman pulled up alongside in an SUV and said in Spanish, “I am going to kill you,” before shooting Franco in the head. Her mother and father were also struck by bullets, but survived.
Planells, 29, was shot that same day while standing in a parking lot in Sylmar.
Video surveillance footage showed someone in a tan SUV “shoot Mr. Planells and casually drive out of the parking lot,” Hanisee said.
Hernandez was arrested later that day, Aug. 24, 2014, after he barricaded himself inside a Sylmar residence in the area of Polk Street and Kismet Avenue for about an hour.
Other unsolved shootings were later tied to the defendant, including a May 14, 2014, drive-by attack that left a Chatsworth teenager paralyzed, according to Hanisee.
The teen had just dropped his girlfriend at home following their high school prom and was waiting for a traffic light to change when a vehicle pulled alongside and a man shot him. One of the bullets struck his spine, causing paralysis, according to Hanisee.
In addition to the murder and attempted murder charges, Hernandez faces eight counts of shooting at an occupied vehicle, three counts of cruelty to an animal, two counts of discharge of a firearm with gross negligence, two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon and one count of possession of ammunition by a felon.
The murder charges include the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and shooting from an occupied vehicle. Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to seek the death penalty.
One of the first witnesses to testify in the preliminary hearing — which will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial — identified Hernandez as the man who shot his three dogs, killing two, on Aug. 23, 2014.
He said he recognized the defendant and his SUV from home surveillance video, because about 10 days before the shooting, Hernandez had stopped outside the home and asked for help jump-starting the Suburban.
The dog owner couldn’t get the SUV started and ended up driving Hernandez to his home to pick up a gas can and then to a gas station before successfully starting the Suburban.
The witness said he spotted a gang tattoo on Hernandez’s neck and wasn’t that concerned about it. But something else he noticed later worried him more: “the butt of a revolver” with a wood grip sticking out of Hernandez’s waistband. Hernandez came out of his house not just wit a gas can, but a nylon bag making “a clanking noise of like two (gun) barrels hitting each other,” the man testified.
The criminal complaint alleges that Hernandez has four prior convictions dating back to 2004, including possession for sale of methamphetamine, possession of a controlled substance with a firearm and possession of a firearm by a felon.
— City News Service