Family, friends and colleagues of Palm Springs Police Officers Jose ‘Gil’ Vega and Lesley Zerebny filed into the Indio courtroom Wednesday as the opening arguments in the trial of John Hernandez Felix, the man charged with their murders in 2016 finally got underway.
Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Manny Bustamante wasted no time in telling and showing jurors what the defendant took away that October day.
“Ladies and gentleman, this defendant, this defendant intentionally took that sunset and whatever remaining sunsets each had in their lives,” said Bustamante as he pointed at Felix.
He used his opening statement to set the time-line of events the day Felix killed Vega and Zerebny and injured another officer as they responded to a 911 call for a family disturbance, saying evidence will prove Felix was out to kill officers, “To carry out premeditated murder … he picked these up, .223 riffle rounds, loaded them in magazines and placed them into an AR-15 rifle,” adding that of the 21 bullets fired ten of them hit an officer or police car.
Bustamante then picked up the AR-15 rifle Felix allegedly used in the shootings, saying he first shot Vega, who was already wounded but was going back to his patrol car for another weapon, “As he stood at the back of his patrol car at the back of his trunk the defendant shot him once again,” adding he then focused on Zerebny who was going to take cover, “But before she could get there the defendant used this to shoot her in the back.”
Bustamante described the injuries he officers suffered, saying the fatal bullets hit Vega in the upper shoulder and pierced his lung, and the bullet that struck Zerebny hit nearly every vital organ.
Bustamante also showed the bulletproof vest he surrendered in nearly 12 hours later and ended by asking jurors to hold Felix accountable, “Hold him accountable and find him guilty.”
Felix’s attorney, John Patrick Dolan says his actions that day are a culmination of a man who has the intellect of a 10-year-old, has mental disabilities, was neglected as a child and was on drugs, “Factually this is immature, angry, emotional, rash,impulsive behavior that’s what the facts will show then you will decide,” adding he agreed Felix should be held accountable but asked jurors to try to fairly decide Felix’s intent that day, “The question is what level of legal accountability is it the appropriate verdict in this case, I trust that you will do what is right and what is just, this is an awesome responsibility to take on, I pray that you will follow the law, analyze the facts and give us your best judgement.”
Following opening arguments, Palm Springs dispatcher Jennifer Hill took the stand. She broke down as she recounted the events and listened to the audio from the call during the shooting. It was hard to find a dry eye in the courtroom as the nearly 12 minute recording played of Vega and Zerebny’s last moments and the heroic actions officers who tried to save them.
If convicted, Felix could face the death penalty.