An appellate court has denied the appeal of a judge’s decision to allow a man accused of fatally shooting two Palm Springs police officers to face the death penalty in his upcoming murder trial.
John Hernandez Felix, 28, is accused of gunning down veteran training Officer Jose Gilbert Vega, 63, and rookie Officer Lesley Zerebny, 27, on Oct. 8, 2016, after they responded to a family disturbance call at his home. Testimony at a hearing last year indicated the 911 call that preceded the gunfire was sparked by a fight between Felix and his sister over a remote control device.
Felix is accused of opening fire on Vega, Zerebny and a third officer through the metal screen door of his home as they approached. He also allegedly fired on five of their colleagues who responded to the shooting, none of whom were struck by the gunfire. Felix was taken into custody at the residence following a 12-hour standoff.
The latest court proceedings in Felix’s case involved a hearing to determine whether he was intellectually fit to face capital punishment, an argument stemming from the 2002 Atkins v. Virginia case, which led to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that it is cruel and unusual punishment to execute a defendant with intellectual disabilities.
During a bench trial late last year, testimony from three mental health experts was heard regarding his mental fitness, but Riverside County Superior Court Judge Anthony R. Villalobos ultimately ruled that prosecutors can proceed with their capital murder case against Felix.
Felix’s attorneys appealed the decision, leaving the proceedings in limbo for about two months, until the appellate court filed its denial of the appeal Thursday. Felix’s next scheduled court appearance is Jan. 25.
He is charged with two counts of murder and six counts of attempted murder, with special circumstance allegations of killing police officers and committing multiple murders, making him eligible for capital punishment if he’s found guilty.
Criminal proceedings were previously suspended for six months in 2017 when Felix’s attorneys sought to have him found mentally incompetent to stand trial. They argued he suffers from “traumatic amnesia” and has no memory of the shooting, preventing him from contributing to an adequate defense, but Villalobos ruled in late 2017 that the defendant was competent enough to assist his attorneys.
District Attorney Mike Hestrin has alleged that Felix, who’s accused of donning body armor and firing armor-piercing rounds from an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, specifically targeted police.
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