Riverside County

Ex-Con Accused of Killing 2 Officers Had 26 Live Rounds When Arrested

The now 28-year-old man is facing a possible death sentence if convicted.

A man accused of killing two Palm Springs police officers who responded to his family's home on a domestic disturbance call was wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying 26 live rounds when he was taken into custody by SWAT officers, an investigator testified Wednesday.

Riverside County sheriff's investigator Dan Moody said John Hernandez Felix had 11 bullets in the pockets of his camouflage shorts, and 15 more that were loaded into magazines.

Investigators also found a methamphetamine pipe, a red lighter and wallet that included Felix's identification, Moody said. Felix is accused of firing an AR-15 rifle at officers from inside the Felix family home in the 2700 block of Cypress Avenue on Oct. 8, 2016.

Veteran officer Gilbert Vega, 63, was fatally shot, along with rookie Officer Lesley Zerebny, 27. Felix is facing a possible death sentence if convicted. 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.

On Tuesday, a sheriff's SWAT deputy who helped take Felix into custody described Felix's arrest in detail. Deputy Adam Ball said the defendant was "passively resisting" as he exited his family's home after a 12-hour standoff.

Ball said it took Felix 10 minutes to walk the short distance from the home to a SWAT team BearCat armored vehicle. Ball said Felix repeatedly lowered his hands, then tried to open the door of the BearCat. At that point, Ball ordered another deputy to fire a bean-bag round at Felix, he said.

Felix fell to the ground, but while deputies tried to take him into custody, he spit at them and said, "You're next. I'm going to kill you. ... I've seen your faces, you're dead," Ball testified.

Vega and Zerebny were the first Palm Springs police officers to be killed in the line of duty since Jan. 1, 1962, when Officer Lyle Wayne Larrabee died during a vehicle pursuit. The only other death in the department was that of Officer Gale Gene Eldridge, who was fatally shot on Jan. 18, 1961, while investigating an armed robbery.

Vega had been with the department 35 years -- five years past his retirement eligibility -- and had planned to retire in 2018. He had eight children, 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. 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 before her death. Felix has a prior conviction for assault with a deadly weapon, for which he served time in state prison.

Defense attorney John Dolan said during opening statements of the trial that Felix had no intent to kill anyone, with his history of family neglect, low educational achievements, drug abuse and an intellectual disability showing he did not act out of premeditation.

But Deputy District Attorney Manny Bustamante said there is clear evidence of premeditation and intent. He pointed to the initial 911 call made by Felix's mother, saying the call includes audio of the defendant helping his mother give the dispatcher the family's address, "so she could tell 911 where the officers should go to."

Bustamante said Felix fired 21 shots through the front door and drywall of the home. Ten of those shots hit either officers or their vehicles, Bustamante said.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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