Closing arguments are set to begin Thursday in the case of the man who gunned down two Palm Springs police officers by firing an AR-15 rifle from inside his family’s home.
The mother of the convicted killer pleaded with jurors for her son’s life Wednesday as the penalty phase of his trial neared an end.
“Do you love your son?” Jacob Devane, defense attorney for 28-year-old John Felix Hernandez, asked the defendant’s mother.
“Con todo mi corazon,” she responded — “with all of my heart.”
The jury is being asked to recommend either a death sentence or life in prison without parole for Felix, who was convicted last week 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 true special circumstance allegations of murder of a peace officer and multiple murders, opening Felix to the possible death sentence.
“I would rather have my life taken away than my son’s,” Margarita Felix told jurors.
Felix shot veteran Officer Jose Gilbert “Gil” Vega, 63, and rookie officer Lesley Zerebny, 27, on Oct. 8, 2016 as they responded to a domestic disturbance call from the Hernandez family home in the 2700 block of Cypress Avenue in Palm Springs.
Maria Felix, the defendant’s older sister by six years, testified that her brother was “a very humble young man, a very good person, regardless of what happened.”
“Even when he was working, he would share his money with all his friends, take them to eat out,” she said through an interpreter.
But Deputy District Attorney Michelle Paradise pressed Maria Felix on her brother’s behavior.
While the defendant living with Maria Felix and her children, police were called to their residence 37 times due to outbursts from John Felix Hernandez, Paradise said. The defendant’s sister said that was accurate.
Three days of testimony wrapped up Wednesday. Closing arguments are set to begin at 9 a.m. Thursday morning.
Earlier this week, Vega’s stepdaughter testified that the lawman brought joy into the life of her mother, who 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. He 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.
He told jurors that his sister fell into a depression and refused to eat after Jose Gilbert Vega’s death, and she died of hunger.
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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