Ambushed Palm Springs officers Jose Gilbert Vega and Lesley Zerebny. Courtesy Palm Springs Police Department
Ambushed Palm Springs officers Jose Gilbert Vega and Lesley Zerebny. Courtesy Palm Springs Police Department

The father of slain Palm Springs police Officer Lesley Zerebny, who was killed along with another officer while responding to a domestic disturbance call, testified Thursday he got a part-time job with the police department last year, in part so he could hear stories about his daughter.

Testifying in the penalty trial of John Hernandez Felix, the man convicted of gunning down his daughter, David Kling told jurors he had a “secret motive” when he joined the Palm Springs Police Department last June.

“I wanted to hear stories about her,” he said.

Kling, a retired California Highway Patrol officer, joined the department as a part-time officer last June and was assigned to patrol duty at Palm Springs International Airport. He said the badge given to him by police Chief Bryan Reyes has the same number as his daughter’s.

Zerebny, 27, and 63-year-old Officer Jose Gilbert Vega were killed Oct. 8, 2016, when Felix fired an AR-15 rifle from inside his family’s home in the 2700 block of Cypress Avenue, where police had gone in response to a domestic disturbance call.

Jurors on Monday convicted the 28-year-old Felix 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. They also found true special-circumstance allegations of murder of a peace officer and multiple murders, opening 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.

Kling testified Thursday that “it touches me how supportive” the community has been following his daughter’s death. He said despite the pride he feels for his daughter and the ultimate sacrifice she made while on duty, “I would trade it all to have five more minutes with her.”

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.

Cora Zerebny watched from the courtroom gallery Wednesday as her father, Zachary Zerebny — a Riverside County sheriff’s deputy — testified about his late wife.

“Lesley had that drive to be a cop for far longer (than I), with her father in law enforcement and a law career, she held it very high and it’s something that she always wanted to do,” Zachary Zerebny said.

Asked by Deputy District Attorney Michelle Paradise if he was ever scared about her going out in the field, Zerebny smiled and said, “I would take her as a backup in a tough situation over 99% of the males that I work with.”

Felix’s defense attorney Jacob Devane argued Tuesday 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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