Court documents indicate significant time passed before 9-1-1 call was made
Desiderio C. “Desi” Hernandez, 34, of Falls City, will be charged with first degree murder in the Aug. 4 shooting death of his cousin, 31-year-old Joseph Debella Jr.
Hernandez appeared in Judge Curtis Maschman’s Richardson County Courtroom Monday, initially on a charge of attempted first degree murder in the alleged shooting at 1418 Morton St.
Deputy County Attorney Zach Blackman, however, requested — and was granted — a continuance because he said he would soon file new charges against Hernandez in the wake of Debella’s passing Aug. 13 in a Lincoln hospital. In addition to first degree murder, the County Attorney’s Office is also charging Hernandez with possession of a firearm to commit a felony and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.
Hernandez, who Monday appeared without counsel, remains in Richardson County Jail on a $1.5 million bond. He is scheduled to return to court Sept. 4 and Maschman set the preliminary hearing date for Sept. 16.
Authorities say Hernandez fired the gunshot that struck Debella in the head late the evening of Aug. 4 and at least a half an hour lapsed before a 9-1-1 call was made. According the signed arrest affidavit, that call was made from the scene of the shooting about 13 minutes after midnight Wednesday, Aug. 5, by Hernandez’ sister-in-law, Amber, who was nowhere near the house when the gun was fired, nor is she suspected to be connected in any way to the shooting.
According to witness testimony, 29-year-old John Hall told police that while occupying the ground floor of the home, he heard a loud noise come from the basement area. A short time later, he said he observed Hernandez emerge from the basement, put on a flannel shirt and walk out of the residence.
Hall said he then verbally called down the stairs for Debella, who didn’t respond. Hall then proceeded down the stairs and located the victim on the floor, unresponsive and with labored breathing. According to police, Hall removed drug paraphernalia from the scene and threw it outside near the driveway. (Hall has been charged with tampering with physical evidence and possession of a controlled substance, both of which are Class IV Felonies. He is scheduled to appear in County Court Sept. 14).
After leaving 1418 Morton, authorities say Hernandez walked to 1509 Chase St. and the home of his sister, Esperanza Ogden, requesting a ride. When she refused, court documents read, Hernandez told his sister he “shot Joey” and left the residence. At that time, Ogden allegedly phoned the 2214 Lane St. home of her brother and sister-in-law, Chris and Amber Hernandez. Shortly thereafter, Desi Hernandez allegedly arrived at the Lane Street home, said he “shot Joey and someone should check on him.” That’s when police say Amber Hernandez drove to
found Debella on the basement floor of a home on Morton St. (directly east of FC Middle School) and he was eventually flown to Lincoln’s Bryan Trauma Center West. The Kansas City, KS, man remained in critical condition as of Monday night (Aug. 10).
Police launched a regional manhunt for Hernandez in the early morning hours of Wednesday, Aug. 5, and by that evening had traced him to a residence in Horton, KS. People there were alerted between 8:30 and 9 p.m. via a group emergency text message, the convicted felon refused to exit the house, and a more than five-hour standoff ensued. The ordeal came to a loud but mostly peaceful end at 2:15 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 6, when tear gas and flash bombs prompted the suspect to surrender.
Hernandez walked with a noticeable limp when being led from the scene and a family member told The Journal Hernandez needed stitches to close a minor wound. He was taken to Brown County (KS) Jail and then transported to Falls City for Friday’s court appearance.
Hernandez and Debella, according to another cousin, Benita Howard, of Ottawa, KS, grew up together in Wolcott, KS, and were “very close.” Hernandez has lived in Falls City for several years, but Debella had only been here visiting for about a month, according to Mrs. Howard.
Howard, on behalf of the Hispanic family, urged area citizens to avoid a rush to judgment and asked that people refrain from posting hateful, racist remarks on social media outlets.
“We don’t know what happened,” Howard said. “We are praying it was an accident, and praying Joey pulls through.”
Initial reports of the shooting occurring after midnight Wednesday, Aug. 5, were contradicted by yet another extended family member, who wished to be unnamed. The Journal’s source said the 9-1-1 call came before midnight. The person knew this, they asserted, because they were the ones who actually made the call.
Since then, two men, allegedly in the home at the time of the shooting — 29-year-old John Hall, of Shubert, and Brett Winters, of Falls City, who had his 19th birthday Friday — have been arrested in connection with the case, accused of tampering with evidence. Authorities say Hall was on the ground floor when he heard the shot go off, and then removed drug-related items, including a scale, from the scene.
This is not Hernandez’ first rodeo: He’s been charged with attempted murder before. In early July 2013, authorities said Hernandez cut the throat of Damon Gates with a razor knife during at altercation at a residence in Falls City. Months later, after accepting a plea bargain from Richardson County prosecutors, he was sentenced to three years of intensive supervised probation on a felony charge of assault in the second degree. Said probation will most likely be revoked.
In June 2014, after successfully completing work ethic camp in McCook, and not yet a full year after sneaking up on a man and cutting his throat, Hernandez walked free. Days served in the Nebraska Dept. of Corrections: Zero.