Phillip Raymond Hernandez’s 9-year-old son never woke up again after the father brutally attacked his sleeping boy with a hatchet.
Now, after a jury Monday convicted Hernandez of first-degree murder and the use of a weapon in his child’s death, the Natomas father will likely spend the next 26 years waking up behind prison bars.
Despite defense attorney Chet Templeton’s insistence that Hernandez didn’t premeditate or plan on killing his son, and that the man had been acting “very strangely” earlier in the evening, a jury found, after nearly three days of deliberations, that Hernandez executed his plan swiftly and decisively: He went into the backyard of his home, grabbed a hatchet, broke through the sliding glass door and brutally attacked 9-year-old Matthew Hernandez.
The child died from blunt force trauma to the head, prosecutors said.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
In the course of the trial, which began March 11, prosecutors depicted Hernandez as a crazed sore loser of a custody battle with his estranged wife over their two sons. In opening statements, Deputy District Attorney Chris Ore told the jury that Hernandez did “what had to be done” when he killed his youngest son.
“Matthew was killed by this ax, for no great reason,” Ore said.
Hernandez will be sentenced May 1 by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Robert Twiss. He faces a penalty of 26 years to life in prison.
According to prosecutors, Hernandez, now 38, and his wife, Jessica, had long-standing relationship issues that predated the birth of Matthew.
After the two had separated, Ore said, Hernandez would tell Jessica that Matthew, who looked more like his mother, “gets under my skin. … He reminds me so much of you.”
Detectives asked Hernandez after the killing if he would have done the same thing to his older son, and he told them, “I wouldn’t have touched him,” Ore told the jury.
At 9 p.m. the night of the killing, Hernandez went to his uncle’s house carrying a Bible and proclaimed himself to be Jesus, Ore’s trial brief said. He went home at 10:45 p.m., retrieved the ax and smashed open a rear sliding glass door with a dumbbell. He found his son asleep on the couch in the living room that had been refashioned into a prayer room.
Startled by the noise, the defendant’s grandmother rushed to the back of the house and saw Hernandez standing over her great-grandson, with the ax raised. She testified at his preliminary hearing that Hernandez told her, “I’m going to do what I have to do.’”
Call The Bee’s Marissa Lang at (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter at @Marissa_Jae.