Murderer Sylmar convicted of five murders, risks lifelong

A man who killed five people and injured several others in 2014 in a months-long shooting that stretched from the San Fernando Valley to West Hollywood was convicted on all charges Wednesday and will spend the rest of his life in prison, prosecutors said.

Alexander Hernandez, 42, was found guilty of five counts of special circumstances murder, 11 counts of attempted murder and several other felonies after a three-week trial, according to the Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. atty. Michel Hanisee.

Under California law, a person convicted of murder with special circumstances can only be sentenced to death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors originally sought the death penalty against Hernandez, but District Atty. George Gascón banned his prosecutors from seeking the death penalty after his election in 2020.

“A verdict in a murder case is never a triumph, it’s just a relief,” Hanisee said. “It is a relief that the victims can move on with their lives.”

Hernandez was arrested in August 2014 and charged with a five-day shooting that killed several people in the San Fernando Valley. Police called him a serial killer at the time.

His attacks actually started months earlier, when Hernandez shot and killed Sergio Sanchez while he was driving on the 210 Freeway near Sylmar, leaving the man dead in his car in an exit, court records show.

Hernandez didn’t know Sanchez, and according to Hanisee, there was no discernible motive in any of his attacks. In many of them, he seemed to be firing randomly from his vehicle.

After Sanchez’s murder, Hernandez carried out a series of shootings in which people were seriously injured but survived. They include an attack in May 2014 in which he opened fire on a 19-year-old in Northridge who took his girlfriend home after the prom. That victim was partially paralyzed, the records show.

In August 2014, Hernandez armed himself with a shotgun and committed another seven shootings in a five-day period, data show. He killed Gilardo Morales, Mariana Franco, Michael Planells and Gloria Tovar, records show. Hernandez also shot and killed several dogs and pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges prior to his trial.

Hanisee said video evidence presented at the trial showed Hernandez “stalked” his victims on more than one occasion. According to Hanisee, he followed Franco’s vehicle for several blocks and circled repeatedly in his car through a park before shooting Planells at close range with a shotgun.

“He was hunting people,” she said.

In all, Hernandez killed five people, injured seven others and shot four more, including two 12-year-olds who were in a car with their parents.

In the years leading up to the shooting, Hernandez had been arrested for vandalism, drug possession and gun offenses, according to court records. He was also arrested for brandishing a knife at his cousin in June 2014, amid the shootings, but prosecutors declined to charge him.

It is not clear why the prosecutors did not press charges in that case. Hernandez had already shot and injured another man the same day he was arrested, Hanisee said, but police had no information about that shooting at the time.

Several factors caused the case to last almost eight years. Questions were raised about Hernandez’s mental competence at several points, and the prosecutors’ initial pursuit of the death penalty also created additional hurdles, Hanisee said. Trials were also suspended for 18 months in LA County due to the COVID-19 pandemic

Many of the victims’ families have spent the past three weeks in court, and Hanisee said the eight years between the shooting and the verdict have done little to ease the pain they feel.

“It’s hard. It’s terrible when I talk to them. They’re still hit hard. They cry. There’s a lot of tears involved,” she said. “It’s the kind of thing that never leaves them.”

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