Teen Says He Killed Dad, But Not 3 Others

Posted: June 03, 1989

A slim, soft-spoken 18-year-old testified yesterday that it was his abusive father, not him, who killed his stepmother and two young stepbrothers in a

violent rampage through a North Philadelphia apartment in March 1988.

The youth, Jose Hernandez, told a jury at his murder trial that he was afraid he would be the next to die when his father, armed with a small pistol, ordered him into his car and told him to start driving toward the Delaware River.

But several blocks away, Hernandez testified, his 35-year-old father seemed to have some kind of a seizure and put both hands to his own head. Hernandez said he then grabbed the pistol and shot his father twice in the head.

"I was scared," Hernandez said. "He was threatening my life."

The bloodied bodies of the father, Catalino Hernandez Jr., his pregnant wife Carmen, 23, and their two sons, Frankie, 4, and Jonathan, 8 months, were not discovered until eight days later, when Jose Hernandez let two aunts into the family's apartment on 7th Street near Fairmount Avenue.

Before the aunts found the four bodies, wrapped in plastic and piled in the

bathtub, Jose Hernandez slipped away and drove off in his car. He was arrested several days later in Dickson County, Tenn., and brought back to Philadelphia to stand trial on charges of murdering his family.

"I felt that nobody could understand, nobody would believe me," Hernandez told the jury, explaining his decision to flee Philadelphia. "I kept on telling myself, I'd have to kill myself, because nobody else would believe me."

The case, being tried before Common Pleas Judge Eugene H. Clarke Jr., is expected to go to the jury next week after final statements by Hernandez's attorney, Bernard L. Siegel, and the prosecutor, assistant district attorney

Bashi Buba.

Hernandez described a lifetime of physical threats and abuse from his father, a self-employed auto mechanic with a violent temper, according to his son and other family members who testified at the trial.

The night of March 12, 1988, Hernandez testified, his father stayed out all night, while Hernandez and his stepmother waited for him.

His father returned around 6 a.m. and started arguing with his stepmother,

Hernandez testified, while he went to his room. Through the crack of the door, he said, he saw his stepmother sitting on a couch, with his father standing shortly before he heard the first of two gunshots.

Several minutes later, Hernandez said, his father called him to the living room, where his stepmother's body was lying, apparently dead. He said his father directed him to wrap the body in plastic and put it in the bathtub.

Hernandez said he followed his father's orders. When he was done moving his stepmother's body, his father gave him similar instructions for the bodies of his two young stepbrothers, Hernandez testified. He said he didn't know how the boys had been killed.

The medical examiner's office concluded earlier that the four-year-old had died of suffocation and strangulation, while the baby died from a severely fractured skull.

Buba questioned Hernandez skeptically on numerous points, particularly his failure to report the murders, his flight when the bodies were discovered and a letter he had written to his girlfriend in Philadelphia, referring to the ''bloodbath" at the apartment but not implicating his father.

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