PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The suspect accused of killing two Palm Springs police officers last week pleaded not guilty Thursday afternoon. His defender requested a psychological assessment to determine if he is mentally fit.
John Hernandez Felix, 26, held without bail, entered the Indio courtroom with shackles on his legs while showing little emotion as he sat just 10 feet away from more than a dozen Palm Springs police officers. It was his first public appearance since the shooting.
— The Desert Sun (@MyDesert) October 14, 2016
The attorney representing Felix, Michael Rowlands, requested a delay in arraignment so his client can undergo psychological competency assessment. “We need to get that done,” Rowlands said, “before we decide which way we are going to proceed.”
Superior Court Judge Victoria Cameron said she would allow Felix to possibly change his plea in November after the assessment.
Felix, a known member of the Varrio Las Palmas gang, has been charged with two counts of murder, with the special circumstances of multiple murders, murder of a police officer in the line of duty, and lying in wait.
Felix opened fire while Officers José Vega, 63 and Lesley Zerebny, 27, were speaking with him at his doorstep after responding to a call about a disturbance.
A Cop for just 18 months, a Mom 4 months ago. She was assassinated this weekend.
Her baby girl will never know her. https://t.co/jU5xkd5D1I
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) October 10, 2016
Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said Felix was “prepared” and set a trap to ambush the victims. “He was deliberate in his actions. He attacked the officers for no reason other than they were officers coming to a call.”
“This individual wanted to kill police officers,” said Hestrin in a press conference last week. “That’s the motive. He wanted to gun down police officers because they wore the uniform.”
Authorities said Felix wore body armor during the shooting and used armor-piercing bullets. The officers also donned body armor at the time of the attack, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
Since Felix also fired at three additional officers, he has also been charged with three counts of attempted murder as well. One of those officers was wounded and survived. Felix has also been charged with possession of a stolen AR-15 assault-style rifle that officials say he used in the attack.
John Hall, spokesperson for the Riverside County District Attorney’s office said that Hestrin will determine by Nov. 1 whether to seek the death penalty. He said the competency assessment to be completed on Felix is a “general psychological evaluation.” It is not the assessment that will determine whether someone could be declared not guilty by reason of insanity, Hall said.
Rowlands argued that cameras should be prohibited in the courtroom to avoid prejudice. But the judge allowed it on a condition that Felix was not photographed or filmed coming in and out of the courtroom to avoid showing his leg shackles.
“I don’t think it’s any more prejudicial than a mug shot in a jumpsuit,” said Assistant District Attorney Michelle Paradise.
Felix is due back in court for a felony settlement conference Nov. 10.
Memorial services for Vega and Zerebny will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Palm Springs Convention Center. Graveside honors for Vega are scheduled immediately afterward at the Coachella Valley Public Cemetery in Coachella. Services for Zerebny will be held at a private location open to family members only.
Photo from the Palm Springs Police Department