He gunned down two Palm Springs police officers and tried to kill a half-dozen more before digging in for a grinding 12-hour standoff.
On Monday, Riverside County jurors needed less than a day to convict John Hernandez Felix of first-degree murder in the 2016 shooting deaths of veteran officer Jose Vega and his rookie partner Lesley Zerebny along with six counts of attempted murder in the wounding of the officers who rushed after their fallen comrades.
Jurors delivered the verdict just after 1:30 p.m. Monday after a month-long trial in the slayings, The Desert Sun newspaper reported.
Felix faces a slate of additional charges: one count each of possession of an assault weapon, possession of a prohibited firearm and ammunition, and being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, along with special circumstances of murdering a peace officer and multiple murders, Riverside County District Attorney’s officials said.
The crimes make Felix, 28, eligible for the death penalty. Jurors will return to Riverside Superior Court in Indio 10 a.m. Tuesday for the trial’s sentencing phase before Riverside Superior Court Judge Anthony Villalobos to determine whether Felix will face the death penalty.
Gov. Gavin Newsom in March signed an executive order halting the death penalty for 737 inmates on death row and ordered the dismantling of the death chamber at San Quentin. But prosecutors in Riverside and other California counties have argued that the governor’s moratorium has no impact on their ability to seek death penalty sentences.
Officers Vega and Zerebny were called Oct. 8, 2016 to a report of a domestic disturbance at a home on Cypress Avenue in the city about two hours east of Los Angeles. Felix was behind the door armed with an AR-15 rifle. Minutes after the two officers arrived to contact family members inside, prosecutors said Felix opened fire.
Vega was a veteran who was due to retire after 35 years on the force, according to the Associated Press. Partner Zerebny, a new mother, had just returned from maternity leave, the AP reported.
Zerebny’s father, David Kling, spoke with reporters outside the courtroom following the verdict.
“I was overjoyed,” Kling said, the Desert Sun reported. “The jury was presented with the facts and we’re very happy about it.”