A judge has issued a tentative ruling admonishing both lawyers from speaking with the press during the trial of accused cop killer John Hernandez Felix. But the judge also said he would research the move further.
A prosecutor took issue with Felix’s attorney for telling the media that the case would not get to trial for at least three years, which she said would cause undue pain for the families of the two slain officers.
Felix, 26, faces first-degree murder and other allegations that could land him on death row if convicted of the Oct. 8 killings of veteran training Officer Jose Gilbert Vega, 63, and rookie Officer Lesley Zerebny, 27.
Felix also allegedly wounded a third officer, and fired on two others.
The two murder counts include special circumstance allegations of murder of a law enforcement officer, lying in wait and taking multiple lives in the same crime and make Felix eligible for the death penalty.
Assistant District Attorney Michelle Paradise said there was no reason why the case couldn’t take one year or less to get to trial and reproached defense attorney John Dolan from making comments that she said “could completely distress our victims’ families.”
She referred to a Nov. 10 story in which Dolan told the media that the case would be lengthy, taking up to three years before getting before a jury, though he did not provide any specific reason for his timeline.
“If Mr. Dolan cannot complete this case within three years because of his busy calendar schedule and multitude of high-profile cases, then I ask that he be reassigned,” Paradise told Riverside County Superior Court Judge Anthony R. Villalobos.
Paradise requested that Dolan no longer make any statements to the press regarding the case, which could lead a judge to issue a gag order that would forbid either attorney from making statements to the media.
Dolan responded that he thought it was “disingenuous” of the District Attorney’s Office to make such a request while also issuing news releases on the case, but said he has “no intention of making any further statements.”
Paradise said the county has a “legal duty” to make certain statements to the public, but that she personally would not be speaking with the media regarding the case either. Paradise also said she believed that a change of venue was likely, which is 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.
However, no motion for a change in venue, which would bring the case to either Riverside, Murrieta or Banning for trial, has yet to be 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.
Vega and Zerebny were 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. Officer Gale Gene Eldridge was fatally shot on Jan. 18, 1961, while investigating an armed robbery.
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 but was pled down. 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 also show that he was on probation at the time of the shooting for a misdemeanor driving under the influence conviction.
Felix will return to the Larson Justice Center Jan. 27 for another felony settlement conference.