A charge of second-degree murder was filed Friday against the motorist involved in a chase that led to the death of a Bakersfield police officer.
Julian Hernandez, 32, had originally been charged with gross vehicular manslaughter and four other felonies in connection with the death of Officer David Nelson. Hernandez tried pleading no contest to those charges Friday morning before Judge Michael G. Bush took the prosecution’s motion to file the murder charge under consideration.
Bush denied Hernandez the opportunity to enter the plea and said the prosecution had a right to have its motion heard.
Deputy Public Defender Ernest Hinman, representing Hernandez with Chief Deputy Public Defender Peter Kang, objected on the grounds that much of the motion involves information that has not yet been provided to them. He asked the motion be sealed if the judge decided to grant it.
Bush granted the motion and said he would not seal it during Friday’s hearing. He also granted the prosecution’s motion for increased bail, raising it from $600,000 to $2 million.
Hernandez had faced a maximum of 12 years and eight months in prison on the original charges. He now faces a sentence of 15 years to life on the second-degree murder charge alone.
“The death of officer Nelson is tragic, but it’s not murder,” Kang said afterward.
He said questions will be raised as to whether Nelson followed safety protocols as he pursued Hernandez, and whether he perhaps drove in a manner beyond his training and skill. The attorney said law enforcement agencies across the state are generally told to stop a pursuit if a traffic accident may occur or if the danger outweighs the benefit of continuing the chase.
Kang said he doesn’t want to minimize the conduct of Hernandez, but it’s not as if the defendant was colliding with the officer’s car or trying to cause him to crash. He said Nelson was a quarter-mile or further behind Hernandez when he crashed.
Prosecutor Jim Simson declined comment.
Hernandez has admitted to being the driver Nelson was chasing at 2:40 a.m. June 26, according to court filings. Nelson stopped Hernandez at Miller and Flower streets.
The officer got out of his car and approached Hernandez’s vehicle but Hernandez then sped off, the filings say. Nelson got back in his patrol vehicle and chased Hernandez north on Haley Street.
The chase continued east on Panorama Drive and ended when Nelson crashed at the northwest corner of Panorama as he tried to turn left onto Alfred Harrell Highway. He died at the scene.
A tip the next morning led police to Hernandez, who confessed to being the driver of the other vehicle and to throwing a shotgun from his car, the filings say.
The next court hearing for Hernandez is scheduled for July 15.