Alleged Palm Springs cop killer appears in court

INDIO – A 26-year-old ex-con accused of murdering two Palm Springs police officers last fall had a court hearing postponed today, March 10,  though prosecutors continue to question whether his attorney violated a court order prohibiting all attorneys involved in the case from speaking to the media.
John Hernandez Felix, who also allegedly wounded a third officer and fired on two others, faces charges that could land him on death row if he’s convicted of killing veteran training Officer Jose Gilbert Vega, 63, and rookie Officer Lesley Zerebny, 27, on Oct. 8.
The two first-degree murder counts include special circumstance allegations of murder of a law enforcement officer, lying in wait and taking multiple lives in the same crime, making Felix eligible for capital punishment if found guilty. He remains in custody without bail.
Issues raised at Felix’s felony settlement conference Friday were in reference to his attorney John Dolan recently appearing on a local news segment regarding his work as a defense attorney.
Assistant District Attorney Michelle Paradise said that the interviews were conducted “under the guise” of his representation of Felix, which she argued might violate an order prohibiting all attorneys from speaking with reporters in relation to the trial.
In the segments, Dolan discusses his previous experience on death penalty cases, though he does not make direct reference to Felix.
Dolan said the prosecution’s assertions were “inaccurate,” though he said the segments may have been edited in such a way to appear as though he were being interviewed regarding the case.
DVDs of the segment were submitted into evidence Friday, which Riverside County Superior Court Judge Anthony R. Villalobos agreed to review.
Paradise previously questioned Dolan’s communications with the media in January, when she took issue with a newspaper interview quoting Dolan. In the article, Dolan states that he believed it would take up to three years for the case to get to trial, though he did not provide any specific reason for his timeline.
Paradise requested that Villalobos issue the order prohibiting media contact, saying that similar comments to media members would cause undue pain for the families of the two slain officers.
A May 5 date remains tentatively set for a preliminary hearing, at which a judge will determine if there are grounds to order Felix to stand trial. He will return to court April 7 for another felony settlement conference.
Felix is accused of firing on Vega and Zerebny through the metal screen door of his home in the 2700 block of Cypress Avenue, after the officers responded to a family disturbance call from the home.
The shooting resulted in a 12-hour standoff and his eventual surrender. Prosecutors said Felix was wearing body armor and fired armor piercing rounds from an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
Whether the case will be tried in Indio remains a question to be determined in the coming months.
Paradise said she believes that a change of venue is likely, a common defense request to ensure a fair trial, as jurors are likely to be polled from the community at or near the scene of the crime.
No motion for a change in venue, which would send the case to Riverside, Murrieta or Banning for trial, has been filed. While Vega lived in the Coachella Valley, Zerebny was a native of the western county city of Hemet, possibly reducing the number of viable venues even further.
The deaths of Vega and Zerebny marked the first time Palm Springs police officers were killed in the line of duty since Jan. 1, 1962, when Officer Lyle Wayne Larrabee died during a vehicle pursuit. The only other death in the department was that of Officer Gale Gene Eldridge, who was fatally shot on Jan. 18, 1961, while investigating an armed robbery.
Vega had been with the department for 35 years – five years past his retirement eligibility – and had planned to finish his career in December 2016. Zerebny had been with the department for a year-and-a-half and she had just returned to duty from maternity leave after the birth of a daughter four months prior to her death.
Felix was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to two years in prison for a 2009 crime that originally drew an attempted murder charge. He was also convicted of street gang activity.
After his release from state prison, he was accused of resisting arrest by Palm Springs police on the same street where he allegedly shot the three officers, who had responded to a domestic violence call.
Court records show that he was on probation at the time of the shooting for a misdemeanor driving-under-the-influence conviction.

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