It was August 2014, 6 1/2 years ago, and many have forgotten. But for those who lived in the city of San Fernando, Chatsworth and Pacoima, it was horrifying when a killer went on the loose, took aim and killed five random people.
They set out for what should have been just another normal day, on their normal routine and could not have imagined that their lives would end for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Gildardo Morales, 48, while parked at a stop light in Pacoima was shot and killed on his way to an early morning job. Those driving by his vehicle before police arrived, couldn’t see him slumped in the driver’s seat and didn’t understand why a truck was just parked in the middle of the street.
On a Sunday morning in Pacoima and the City of San Fernando and Pacoima, a hail of gunfire first sprayed into Gloria Tovar’s parked car on Filmore Street in Pacoima as she waited to pick up her friend who both planned to help out with church services at Gaurdian Angel.
Mariana Franco, 23, also en route to early Mass ,was shot and killed about 5:50 a.m., on Celis Street in San Fernando as she was riding in the car with her family en route to early morning Mass at Santa Rosa Church.
While looking for cans to recycle, Michael Hendrix Planells, 29, was shot and killed on that same early Sunday, (Aug. 24,) in the parking lot of the Sylmar Recreation Center.
After waking to the news that someone was randomly firing into cars and people on sidewalks, local residents locked themselves into their homes on a blistering summer day while police searched for the shooter.
As heinous as this killing spree was, this week the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office dropped its bid for the death penalty for Alexander Hernandez, an ex-con from Sylmar who’s charged with killing five innocent victims — most of them within less than a week.
“I’m Going to Kill You”
Hernandez, now 40, is charged with the 2014 murders of Sergio Sanchez on March 14; Morales on Aug. 21; and Tovar, Planells and Franco on Aug. 24, along with 11 attempted murders. Most of the shootings occurred between Aug. 20-24.
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.
It was later found that other unsolved shootings were tied to Hernandez, including a May 14, 2014, drive-by attack that left a Chatsworth teenager paralyzed.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 car pulled alongside him and shot him. One of the bullets struck his spine, causing paralysis.
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.
At the time of his arrest, homicide detectives referred to Hernandez as a “serial killer.”
Prosecutors had announced in 2017 they were 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.
But, 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.’’
Other Death Penalty Positions Changed
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.
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.
Hernandez is due back in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom April 15 for a pretrial hearing.