LOS ANGELES—The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office March 16 dropped its bid for the death penalty for an ex-con from Sylmar who’s charged with killing five people—most of them within less than a week—during a shooting spree in the San Fernando Valley six and-a-half years ago.
Alexander Hernandez, now 40, is charged with the 2014 murders of Sergio Sanchez on March 14; Gilardo Morales on Aug. 21; and Gloria Tovar, Michael Planells and Mariana Franco on Aug. 24, along with the 11 attempted murders, the bulk of which occurred between Aug. 20 to Aug. 24.
Hernandez is also facing 11 counts of attempted murder, eight counts of shooting at an occupied vehicle, three counts of cruelty to an animal, two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon and one count each of discharge of a firearm with gross negligence and possession of ammunition by a felon.
The prosecution had announced in 2017 that it was seeking the death penalty against Hernandez, who has remained jailed without bail since he was arrested after barricading himself for about an hour inside a Sylmar residence on Aug. 24, 2014.
Shortly after being sworn into office last December, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon issued a series of directives, including one that “a sentence of death is never an appropriate resolution in any case.”
Since then, prosecutors have opted not to seek the death penalty in at least three other high-profile cases, involving Kenneth Earl Gay, who’s charged in the 1983 killing of a Los Angeles police officer in Lake View Terrace; Michael Christopher Mejia, an admitted gang member accused of killing a family member in East Los Angeles and then opening fire on two Whittier police officers, killing one and wounding the other; and Geovanni Borjas, a Torrance man charged with raping and murdering a teenage girl and a young woman who were found dead less than a year apart.
Hernandez could now face a maximum of life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted as charged.
Most of the victims were driving—including home from prom or work, to church and en route to a fishing trip with their kids on Father’s Day— when they noticed a vehicle following them or pulling up alongside.
In most of the cases, the vehicle was Hernandez’s tan Chevrolet Suburban, Deputy District Attorney Michele Hanisee alleged at a hearing in 2016 in which the defendant was ordered to stand trial.
The SUV was identifiable by a hood that didn’t close properly, stickers of “a white skull” and “666” on the back of the vehicle, its custom six-spoked rims and other unique details, according to the prosecution, which also alleged that housing for a side-view mirror found at the Morales crime scene was matched to the Suburban.
Tovar, 59, was shot to death while in her car in Pacoima, waiting to pick up a friend to go to church.
Franco, 22, was driving with her parents when a gunman pulled up alongside in an SUV and said in Spanish, “I am going to kill you,” before shooting Franco in the head. Her mother and father were also struck by bullets, but survived.
Planells, 29, was shot that same day while standing in a parking lot in Sylmar.
Video surveillance footage showed someone in a tan SUV “shoot Mr. Planells and casually drive out of the parking lot,” Hanisee said.
The animal cruelty charges involve three dogs—two of which were killed—at the Pacoima home of a good Samaritan who testified that he had helped Hernandez jump-start his SUV about 10 days earlier.
Other unsolved shootings were later tied to the defendant, including a May 14, 2014, drive-by attack that left a Chatsworth teenager paralyzed, according to Hanisee.
The teen had just dropped his girlfriend at home following their high school prom and was waiting for a traffic light to change when a vehicle pulled alongside and a man shot him. One of the bullets struck his spine, causing paralysis, according to the prosecutor.
Hernandez is due back in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom April 15 for a pretrial hearing.