Late in the Feb. 26 evening, Adelaida Amezola heard a crash though the sliding glass door of her South Natomas home. She came out of her bedroom to find out what happened, and she saw a light on in what she called the “prayer room,” where she saw her grandson standing over Matthew, one of his two sleeping sons.
“He looks to me like a statue,” Amezola, 73, testified in the preliminary hearing for her grandson Phillip Raymond Hernandez. “I couldn’t recognize his face. To me, it appeared to be something bigger than he really is.”
Amezola said, “I start talking to him. I ask him what is going on, what is happening. He didn’t answer. I asked him two times, ‘What are you doing?’ Finally, he responds. I ask him, ‘What are you going to do?’ and he answers, ‘I’m going to do what I have to do.’”
It was then, Amezola said, that Hernandez “was approaching me,” and that she was “trying to get to his hands, or trying to grab him to talk to him.” But her grandson pushed her to the ground. And it was then, she said, that “everything happened so quick,” that “I just saw the object hitting Matthew.”
She later learned that the object was a hatchet, and that Phillip Raymond Hernandez, now 37, used it to deliver what a Sacramento police officer described as “a deep, penetrating chop wound” to the right side of his 9-year-old son’s head.
At Hernandez’s Aug. 7 preliminary hearing, where his grandmother recounted what she saw, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Cheryl Chun Meegan ordered the defendant to stand trial for murder in the killing of his child. On Friday, Judge Delbert W. Oros delayed further proceedings on Hernandez until Oct. 29, pending a forensic psychological examination requested by defense attorney Stan Kubochi.
Previously disclosed family, juvenile court and prison records have outlined Hernandez’s history of domestic violence and methamphetamine abuse, his dispute with his ex-wife over the custody of his children and the inability of the Sacramento County’s child protection agency to stop the slaughter of Matthew, despite a large body of knowledge that strongly suggested his father could present a danger.
The testimony at Hernandez’s preliminary hearing filled in more details on the back story to the boy’s death. According to a police interview with Jessica Hernandez, the defendant’s ex-wife and mother of their two sons, the slaying suspect had a problem with Matthew going back to the boy’s time in the womb.
“She indicated that when she told Mr. Hernandez she was pregnant (with Matthew), he told her she should get an abortion,” Officer Daniel Burke testified about his interview with Jessica Hernandez. “And when she was pregnant with Matthew, Mr. Hernandez would hit her in the stomach.”
Once the baby was born and was growing up, Burke further testified, “She told me that he would say ‘Matthew looks like you,’ indicating Jessica Hernandez, and she said he would grunt with displeasure after he would say that.”
Born in July 2003, Matthew was just under a year old when his father was charged in July 2004 for corporal injury on Jessica Hernandez, from whom the defendant had separated three months earlier. Phillip Hernandez pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 120 days in jail and five years’ probation, which he violated, leading to 15 months in state prison, according to Sacramento Superior Court online records.
In her testimony at the preliminary hearing, Adelaida Amezola said she moved from Riverside to Sacramento in May 2012 to help out her grandson. She said she bought a house in the 2200 block of Atrisco Circle for her and him and his two sons. She acknowledged that Phillip Hernandez had an ongoing dispute with his ex-wife over the custody of their two sons and that Jessica Hernandez had reported him to Child Protective Services a few weeks before the killing.
Still, Amezola said, he did not appear to be particularly angry over the issue. In January, Amezola testified that he gave her and the two boys a ride to the airport to visit Jessica in Las Vegas for their mother’s birthday. Then he picked them up when they flew home, Amezola testified.
According to Amezola, Hernandez was unemployed and had financial problems that resulted in him losing his car. He had been in a drug treatment program, but had recently tested dirty, Amezola said. Psychologically speaking, she said he still seemed all right, except “it seemed he was sleeping too much.”
She said he had a good relationship with his older son but that he had some problems with Matthew, who had been acting out in school.
“I used to go to school, talk to the teachers, and they told me they just couldn’t handle him,” Amezola said. The boy had been prescribed medications to help calm him down, she said.
Amezola testified her grandson had since begun a relationship with another woman but that it became strained, too.
She said Phillip and the new woman in his life had two more children. The day of the killing, those two children were at Atrisco Circle for a visit until their mother came to pick them up around 7:30 p.m.
About an hour later, Amezola said she and Hernandez and the two boys watched some television. The older boy then went to bed with a headache, after which Phillip Hernandez left the house. “He told me that he had some anxiety attacks,” Amezola testified.
“I told him, ‘Don’t you have anybody to contact, to talk to you?’ and he said ‘Yeah,’ and he had a Bible and left the house,” Amezola testified. She said it was unusual for her grandson to be carrying the Bible.
About 9 p.m., Matthew announced, “Grandma, I’m going to sleep in the prayer room.” He got a blanket and went to sleep on a couch. Amezola said she brought him a pillow, then went to bed herself around 10 p.m. – only to be awoken later by the sound of the crash through the sliding glass window.
Police said Hernandez used a barbell to break into the house, even though he had a key, according to his grandmother.
Amezola said she saw Hernandez hit his son once or twice. Then, “He got out of that room so fast.” Police swarmed the neighborhood and arrested him close by.
Officer Burke said he interviewed Hernandez at 4:22 a.m. the next morning. Hernandez, he said, admitted everything.
“He said he went in with a hatchet and smacked him in the head two or three times,” Burke testified. Burke said he asked Hernandez why he did it, but “he couldn’t really give a good answer.”
Call The Bee’s Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo