The first degree murder trial of Desiderio C. “Desi” Hernandez scheduled to begin in February, then May, then September, finally got underway Monday at the Richardson County Courthouse, as 12 jurors were seated just in time to hear opening arguments.
The jury selection process took up the entire morning and much of the afternoon. The 12 finalists were seated for the State’s opening arguments at about 3:30 p.m. The jury will return Tuesday to hear witnesses called by representatives from the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, which is handling the prosecution. Once the State rests, Hernandez’ defense attorneys will have a chance to convince the panel of their client’s innocence.
Hernandez, 35, is being tried in the Aug. 4, 2015 shooting death of his cousin, 31-year-old Joseph Debella Jr., in the basement of a Falls City residence.
Authorities say Hernandez intentionally fired the gunshot that struck Debella in the head and ultimately resulted in his death in a Lincoln hospital more than a week later. Police reports and Court documents indicate witnesses were inside the home at the time of the shooting, yet a significant period of time elapsed before a 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.
The State is expected to call two men who were allegedly in the house that night: John Hall, 30, of Shubert, and 20-year-old Brett Winters, of Falls City. The two men allegedly occupied the ground floor of the home at the time of the shooting. Both also faced felony charges of tampering and possession of a controlled substance, as authorities claim they removed drug paraphernalia upon hearing the shot fired. Hall, according to police, said he “heard a loud noise come from the basement area” and a short time later observed Hernandez emerge from the basement, put on a shirt and walk out of the residence.
Hall, according to the arrest affidavit, then verbally called down the stairs for Debella, who didn’t respond. Hall then proceeded to the basement and located the victim on the floor, unresponsive and with labored breathing.
Police launched a regional manhunt for Hernandez in the early morning hours of Aug. 5, 2015 and by that evening had traced him to a residence in Horton, KS. He surrendered to authorities after a lengthy standoff.
Hernandez and Debella grew up together in Wolcott, KS.
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. He was sentenced to and in June 2014 successfully completed work ethic camp in McCook; Gates committed suicide in jail less than a year after the incident at the age of 29. The jury will hear none of that, as Judge Daniel Bryan, on a motion by the defense this fall, ruled inadmissible any evidence or testimony surrounding the 2013 case.