The wheels of justice can move slowly. It was Aug. 21, 2014, early Sunday morning, when residents living in the City of San Fernando woke up to the most grisly news: a serial killer was on the loose, randomly shooting into cars and killing people who were on their way to church.
Residents were told to stay inside their homes as police searched for a suspect, people locked their doors and windows and on this hot day, kids were told they couldn’t play outside.
Police arrested Sylmar resident Alexander Hernandez on Aug. 24, 2014, after he barricaded himself inside a Sylmar residence near Polk Street and Kismet Avenue. But it was only this week, now 2 years and 8 months later, that the District Attorney’s office announced that it will seek the death penalty for the ex-convict.
The lengthy investigation would find that Hernandez was not only the sole suspect for the killings in San Fernando, but the prime suspect for the killing and injuring of others, including shooting and paralyzing a teen in Chatsworth.
Hernandez was charged with killing five people — four of them within less than a week.
He pleaded not guilty to the murders of Sergio Sanchez on March 14, 2014; Gilardo Morales on Aug. 21, 2014; and Gloria Tovar, Michael Planells and Mariana Franco on Aug. 24, 2014, along with the 11 attempted murders — the bulk of which occurred between Aug. 20-24, 2014.
The murder counts include the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and shooting from an occupied vehicle.
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 criminal complaint alleges that Hernandez has four prior convictions dating back to 2004, including possession for sale of methamphetamine, possession of a controlled substance with a firearm and possession of a firearm by a felon.
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 said last year at a hearing 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 prosecutor.
Housing for a side view mirror found at the Morales crime scene was matched to the Suburban, according to the prosecution.
But more gruesome links were also found by crime scene investigators, including “blood and bits of tissue” from Tovar’s skull — large enough to be “visible to the naked eye” — found in the Suburban, Hanisee told the judge.
Tovar, 59, was shot to death while pulled over to the curb in her car in Pacoima, waiting to pick up a friend to go to mass at Mary Immaculate church.
Franco, 22, was driving with her parents in San Fernando when a gunman pulled up alongside the family 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 managed to survive; when police arrived, they had crawled onto the sidewalk.
Planells, 29, was also shot and killed that same day while standing in a parking lot at a park 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 Hernandez, including a May 14, 2014, drive-by attack that left a Chatsworth teenager paralyzed, according to the prosecutor.
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 Hanisee.
At the start of the hearing last year in which Hernandez was ordered to stand trial, a defense attorney told the judge that the case involved “significant and complex mental state questions.”
Hernandez is due back in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom for a pretrial hearing on June 27.