Murder suspect pleads ‘not guilty’
Desiderio C. “Desi” Hernandez, 34, of Falls City, pled not guilty to first degree murder in the shooting death of his cousin, 31-year-old Joseph Debella Jr., in Richardson County District Court last Tuesday and a jury trial is scheduled for Feb. 8, 2016.
Hernandez, who is being housed at the Nebraska Diagnostic and Evaluation Center in Lincoln, appeared in Judge Daniel Bryan’s Courtroom with appointed lawyer Jeffrey Pickens, of the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy. The case is being prosecuted by the State Attorney General’s Office. Hernandez has also been charged with possession of a firearm to commit a felony and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.
Authorities say Hernandez fired the gunshot that struck Debella in the head late the evening of Aug. 4 in the basement of a home located at 1418 Morton St. Debella died in a Lincoln hospital on Aug. 13. Police reports and Court documents indicate several witnesses were inside the home at the time of the shooting, yet a significant period of time elapsed before the 9-1-1 call was made. Hernandez allegedly traveled on foot to the homes of siblings at 1509 Chase St. and 2214 Lane St. before authorities were called to the scene and paramedics began administering first aid.
John Hall, 29, of Falls City, allegedly 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 Nov. 16 for a scheduling conference. A second alleged witness, 19-year-old Brett M. Winters, of Falls City, last Tuesday in District Court pled not guilty to felony tampering and is scheduled to stand trial Jan. 13, 2016. Winters also pled not guilty to felony possession of a controlled substance (Xanax) and misdemeanor charges of criminal mischief, trespassing in the second degree and possession of drug paraphernalia (syringes) after police say less than a month after the shooting he returned to the by-then uninhabited 1418 Morton home, which is owned by Edwin Collins, and forced his way into the house, damaging the front door. That trial, too, is set for Jan. 13.
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. He surrendered to authorities after a lengthy standoff in the early morning hours of Thursday, Aug. 6.
Hernandez and Debella, according to a 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.
Hernandez faced attempted murder charges in 2013 after being accused of cutting 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. In June 2014, after successfully completing work ethic camp in McCook, Hernandez walked free without having spent any time in the Nebraska Dept. of Corrections.