An ex-convict from Sylmar was found guilty Wednesday of fatally shooting five people in the San Fernando Valley, including three on one day.
Jurors deliberated less than a day before convicting Alexander Hernandez, now 42, of first-degree murder for the 2014 slayings of Sergio Sanchez on March 14; Gilardo Morales on Aug. 21; and Gloria Tovar, Michael Planells and Mariana Franco on Aug. 24, along with 11 counts of attempted murder — the bulk of which occurred between Aug. 20 and 24, 2014.
The panel found true the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder during a drive-by shooting.
Hernandez was also convicted of eight counts of shooting at an occupied vehicle, two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon and one count of possession of ammunition by a felon.
Hernandez faces life in prison without the possibility of parole, with sentencing set July 8 in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office dropped its bid for the death penalty for Hernandez in March 2021, just under four years after the prosecution announced it would seek capital punishment.
Shortly after being sworn into office, District Attorney George GascÃ³n issued a series of directives, including one that “a sentence of death is never an appropriate resolution in any case.”
Deputy District Attorney Michele Hanisee told jurors in her final argument that they will probably never know why the crimes occurred. She told City News Service after the verdict that the attacks were “absolutely unprovoked.”
Hernandez has remained jailed without bail since he was arrested after barricading himself for about an hour inside his Sylmar residence on Aug. 24, 2014.
Most of the victims were driving — including home from prom or work, to church and en route to a fishing trip with their children 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 silver birch metallic Chevrolet Suburban, Hanisee alleged at a hearing in 2016 in which the defendant was ordered to stand trial.
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, according to the prosecution, which also alleged that housing for a side-view mirror found at the Morales crime scene was matched to the Suburban.
Sanchez, 35, was found fatally shot inside his vehicle on a freeway off-ramp in Sylmar, while Morales, 48, was shot to death while in a vehicle in the Pacoima area.
Tovar, 59, was shot to death while in her car in Pacoima, waiting to pick up a friend to go to church.
Franco, 22, was with her parents and two siblings on their way to church when a gunman pulled up alongside in an SUV and said in Spanish either “I am going to kill you” or “I’m killing 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 an SUV “shoot Mr. Planells and casually drive out of the parking lot,” the prosecutor said at the hearing in 2016.
Hernandez — who withdrew his not guilty by reason of insanity plea just before the trial — pleaded no contest before the trial began to three animal cruelty charges involving three dogs — two of which were killed — at the Pacoima home of a good Samaritan who testified that he had previously helped Hernandez jump-start his SUV.
Other unsolved shootings that were later linked to the defendant included a May 14, 2014, drive-by attack that left a Chatsworth teenager paralyzed, according to the prosecutor.
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, Hanisee said.
Hernandez had prior convictions dating back to 2004 for possession for sale of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance while armed and possession of a firearm by a felon.