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Man pleads not guilty in deaths of 2 Palm Springs officers

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Posted at 10:20 AM, Oct 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-13 20:12:57-04

INDIO, Calif. - A California gang member pleaded not guilty Thursday to murder charges in the killing of two Palm Springs police officers in what authorities called an ambush during a domestic dispute call.

John Hernandez Felix entered the pleas in a Riverside County courtroom, where he appeared with shackles on his legs and was ordered held without bail.

Authorities said Felix was intent on killing police on Saturday when he carried out the latest attack on officers across the nation that have included ambushes in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Felix's public defender Michael Rowlands had asked for a delay in the arraignment so his client could undergo a psychological exam.

"We need to get that done before we decide which way we are going to proceed," Rowlands said.

Superior Court Judge Victoria Cameron denied the request but said she would allow Felix to possibly change his plea in November after the assessment.

Felix, 26, also pleaded not guilty to three attempted murder charges and a pair of weapons charges. He spoke only to enter the plea and answer yes-or-no questions.

Felix is eligible for the death penalty, but prosecutors have not yet announced whether they will seek it.

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The courtroom was packed with victims' family members and police officers.

Rowlands argued that cameras should not be allowed in the courtroom to avoid prejudicing the public against Felix. The judge, however, allowed cameras under the condition that Felix was not photographed or filmed coming and going from the courtroom so his leg shackles would not be seen.

Felix is accused of killing Officers Jose "Gil" Gilbert Vega, 63, and Lesley Zerebny, 27, and wounding a third officer when they came to his family home on Saturday in response to a call involving a domestic disturbance. Police have not released further details.

Vega, a 35-year veteran of the force, was preparing to retire. Zerebny had been with the department about 18 months and left behind a 4-month-old daughter with her husband, a Riverside County sheriff's deputy.

Felix previously pleaded guilty to assault with a firearm and acknowledged his gang membership in a 2009 case.