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John Hernandez Felix appeared in court on Thursday to learn his sentence for the brutal ambush of two police officers in Palm Springs, California. Six more were wounded as they responded to a domestic violence call at his mother’s home. He did not like what the jury had to say.

Felix, an admitted gang member, was wearing body armor on October 8, 2016 when he opened fire on the officers with an AR-15 assault rifle. As Prosecutor Manny Bustamante told jurors in open court, “Felix targeted the officers simply because they were police.” Even the defense attorney, John Dolan, acknowledged that “the acts described by Mr. Bustamante were extremely violent and ultimately deadly.”

The only thing that Dolan could argue on behalf of his client was that there were extenuating circumstances. “Were the acts the only thing to be considered by the jury, this case would be indefensible,” he relates. According to his theory, “the controversy in this case” is “intent.” Considering that his client had put on a bullet proof vest before the officers arrived, made that a very weak argument indeed.

“the acts described by Mr. Bustamante were extremely violent and ultimately deadly.”

After what local news KTLA calls “a lengthy standoff” in a Palm Springs area residential neighborhood, Felix was taken into custody. By then, Officers Lesley Zerebny and Jose “Gil” Vega were dead. As Bustamante related in court, “This defendant intentionally took that sunset and any remaining sunsets they had in their lives, not only because they were Zerebny and Vega, but because they were Officer Vega and Officer Zerebny.”

It seems the Jury agreed with the prosecutor. After finding Felix guilty earlier in May, Jurors returned on Thursday to recommend the death penalty. Judge Anthony Villalobos will have the final say on the sentence, August 30.

“This defendant intentionally took that sunset and any remaining sunsets they had in their lives, not only because they were Zerebny and Vega, but because they were Officer Vega and Officer Zerebny.”

Officer Vega not only had a large family of eight, the 35-year veteran was approaching retirement. According to KTLA, “he wasn’t scheduled to work the day he died but had volunteered to fill the shift.” Officer Zerebny was described as “a rookie officer just back from maternity leave.”

Felix’s counsel described his client to jurors as having “low intelligence” and noted that he “was on drugs at the time of the crime.” Testifying on behalf of their son, the defendant’s parents characterized him as “lazy and later angry when on drugs but never violent.”

Felix’s mother declared, “that was not my son, He was acting very strangely” on the day of the attack.

During the trial, defense counsel argued that he is “too intellectually disabled” to be a viable candidate for capital punishment but the Judge refuted that.

Following the jury’s recommendation, District Attorney Mike Hestrin issued a statement. “We are gratified with the jury’s verdict and this represents a step toward justice for these two fallen officers.”

While prosecutors in California are allowed to seek the death penalty, the state’s liberal Governor, Gavin Newsom, put a hold on enforcing such sentences.


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