BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The 5th District Court of Appeal has upheld a murder conviction against a man who led a Bakersfield police officer on a high-speed chase that ended with the officer’s death.
Julian Hernandez, 38, will continue to serve a life term following the appellate court’s ruling last week. He was found guilty of second-degree murder and four other felonies in 2018 in connection with the death of Officer David Nelson.
The court decided to strike two 1-year enhancements that were imposed for Hernandez’s prior prison terms, leaving him with a total term of 29 years to life.
The crime of second-degree murder doesn’t require intent to kill, but instead involves a situation where the perpetrator knows there is a distinct possibility someone could die as a result of their actions. Prosecutors said that was the case with Hernandez, who traveled at speeds greater than 100 mph during a chase on city streets.
Hernandez on appeal argued there was insufficient evidence for the murder conviction, and that the court incorrectly gave instructions that reduced the prosecution’s burden of proof to show Hernandez’s actions were the cause of Nelson’s death. He also argued the court made incorrect evidentiary rulings by excluding that Nelson wasn’t wearing a seat belt and allowing the jury to hear about Hernandez’s prior speeding violations and failure to obey law enforcement.
But the appellate court opinion, written by Acting Presiding Justice Charles Poochigian, rejected those arguments, finding there was “overwhelming” evidence to support the murder conviction.
Among other evidence, Hernandez admitted he refused to stop for Nelson while fully aware he was a BPD officer with lights flashing and siren activated, and that he “mashed the accelerator all the way to the floor” to try to outrun him. Hernandez ran lights and stop signs as he tried to get away, the opinion says.
“When asked if he knew someone could have been hurt by the way he was driving, defendant said ‘he really wasn’t thinking about it,’ and ‘he did not care if he got hurt,'” the opinion notes.
The chase happened early on July 26, 2015, when Nelson saw a suspicious-looking silver Hyundai with paper license plates near Flower and Haley streets in East Bakersfield. He stopped the car, but when he approached it sped off.
Minutes later, Nelson crashed. Police said it appeared he tried making a left turn onto Alfred Harrell Highway from Panorama Drive but crossed the raised center divider. He hit the curb, spinning his car around, and it traveled eastward and hit a power pole and concrete brick wall.
Nelson died at the scene.
A tip led police to Hernandez about 32 hours later. By that time, Hernandez had written a letter which he handed to police admitting to his involvement in the chase and accusing Nelson of profiling him because he has tattoos.
Nelson was the first BPD officer to die in the line of duty since Officer William L. Sikola in 1983.