Nine months out of prison, Phillip Hernandez wrote an impassioned plea to Sacramento's family court to let him try fatherhood.
He described being a "fully and utterly changed" man with a desire to "correct past wrongs." He talked about going to work and saving money and buying a home for himself and his boys, whom he hadn't seen in three years.
"Because ultimately, they are what matter, my view of life and what is important in it is family," he wrote to the court in July 2008, asking for visitation rights. "Please hear my plea and help me be there. I want to give them what I didn't have a father."
The words hardly sound like those of the man portrayed in earlier criminal court records as abusive of his wife, disobedient of the law and defiant of the court. And most starkly, they stand in contrast to the depiction of Hernandez by Sacramento police as a child killer.
Police allege that Hernandez used a hatchet to brutally attack his youngest son, 9-year-old Matthew Raymond Hernandez, as he slept on the couch of their South Natomas home Tuesday night. The violence was witnessed by the boy's great-grandmother, who made two hysterical 911 calls.
Officers arrived to find the fourth-grader dead and his 12-year-old brother, who was home at the time of the slaying, unharmed. Hernandez, 36, was arrested about a mile away.
He is scheduled to be arraigned today on one charge of murder.
Detectives, relatives and community members have sought answers in the aftermath of the attack, to no avail. Hernandez is being held in the Sacramento County Main Jail's psychiatric ward, but no one has alleged that he is mentally ill.
Criminal and family court records dating back to 2004 offer a troubling portrait of Hernandez. Three months after separating from his wife and the mother of his two children, Jessica Hernandez, he pleaded no contest to inflicting felony corporal injury upon her.
He was sentenced to 120 days in jail and five years of formal probation. According to Sacramento Superior Court records, the requirements of his probation included alcohol and drug rehabilitation; completion of a 52-week batterers' treatment program; and no contact with the victim.
In April 2005, the court revoked his probation at the urging of the Probation Department, records show. He consistently failed to attend his batterers' treatment program; he did not enroll in a rehab program and he did not make scheduled restitution payments, according to the records.
Hernandez was sent to the Sheriff's Work Project as a result, but he failed to show up to that, too, and a no-bail warrant was issued for his arrest. He then served 90 days of jail time, records show.
He violated the terms of his probation again in November 2005 when he was arrested in West Sacramento on suspicion of domestic violence, according to the court records. Shortly thereafter, the court again revoked his probation; he still had not completed a batterers' treatment program or drug rehab and he violated a court-imposed restraining order by contacting his ex-wife.
In that incident, he argued with Jessica Hernandez, forced his way into her doorway, bruised her arm and smashed her cellphone as she tried to call police, according to the West Sacramento police report filed in court.
Hernandez was sent to prison in July 2006, serving concurrent terms for the probation violation in Sacramento County and the domestic violence conviction in Yolo County. He was released in October 2007.
Public records and those provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation do not indicate any parole violations or other criminal charges since then. He was discharged from parole in November 2008.
It was July 31 of that year when he pleaded with the court to allow him access to his two boys. A family court judge issued a temporary order allowing him one visit a month, to which Jessica Hernandez immediately objected.
"He is a dangerous man and I am terrified to leave my sons in his care," she wrote.
They were sent to mediation and in January 2009 signed an agreement that gave custody to the boys' mother and some visitation rights to their father, according to records contained in the couple's divorce file.
That summer, Jessica Hernandez allowed the children to stay with their father "to try and make up for the time he had missed in their lives" and because "he was in a better financial position than me," she wrote in a later court document.
Meanwhile, Phillip Hernandez wrote to the court, charging that the boys' mother was "unstable" and not caring properly for them.
It was not immediately clear from the court file whether the boys ever returned to the physical custody of their mother. Last October, she wrote to the court saying her financial status and "quality of life" had improved and she wanted the boys to move out of state to join her.
"This is nothing personal toward their father," she wrote. "I am certain I could provide for them better for the time being."
But a judge ordered custody to Phillip Hernandez, with visitation for Jessica. The parties were scheduled to return to court in July for an update.
Meanwhile, their 12-year-old son is staying with family since his father's arrest.