The man accused of killing two police officers in Palm Springs, California will face the death penalty, the Riverside County District Attorney’s office announced Wednesday. John Felix, 26, was facing a slew of charges, including: two counts of murder, lying in wait, the murder of law enforcement officers and multiple murders. The circumstances of the Oct. 8 shooting made him eligible for the death penalty.
District Attorney Mike Hestin met with the families of slain officers Lesley Zerebny and Jose Gilbert Vega Tuesday before deciding to seek the death penalty. Vega, 63, was set to retire at the end of the year while Zerebny, 27, was new to the force and had a four-month-old daughter at home.
“This was a heinous crime involving the murders of two police officers who were gunned down simply because they were police officers,” said Hestin. “The victims in this case were responding to a call for service and died in the line of duty protecting our community.”
Zerebny and Vega were murdered after they responded to a call of a family disturbance. Felix shot and killed both officers when he fired an assault rifle through a metal security gate. He shot at three additional officers who later arrived on the scene, injuring one before barricading himself inside for 12 hours. Felix was finally flushed out when a SWAT team unleashed chemical agents in the area.
It’s unclear what his motivation was, but Felix was wearing body armor at the time of the murders.
“Based on the evidence in this case, it is believed that Felix, a self-admitted and known gang member, ambushed the officers who responded to the residence,” said Hestin.
A sniper ambush in July killed five police officers in Dallas, Texas, the largest loss of life for United States police since Sept. 11, 2001. The gunman, Micah Xavier Johnson, told police negotiators he was angry about black men being shot by police. Johnson was later killed by a bomb detonated by a police robot after negotiations with him failed.