Teen Says He Killed His Father Denies Slaying 3 Others In Family

Posted: June 03, 1989

In a tremulous voice, Jose Hernandez admitted yesterday that he killed his father.

But he denied killing his pregnant stepmother and two young stepbrothers.

Hernandez, 18, yesterday testified for three hours in his own defense, telling a convoluted tale of family abuse, jealousy and, finally, murder. Though his voice shook and his hands occasionally trembled, Hernandez remained composed throughout his testimony. He spoke quietly, sometimes lapsing into a mumble and at other times wiping his eyes.

As he described shooting his father, Hernandez demonstrated how he reached over and took a gun from his father's hand and shot him once in the head.

"I was so scared, I just shot him again," Hernandez said then, re- enacting how his father slumped onto the floor of the car after the first shot, his head resting against the seat.

The bodies of his father, Catalino Hernandez Jr., 35; stepmother, Carmen

Hernandez, 23, and stepbrothers, Frankie, 5, and Jonathan, 8 months, were found March 21, 1988, heaped atop one another in the bathtub in the family's apartment in the 600 block of North Seventh Street. Carmen and Catalino

Hernandez had been shot. Frankie had been strangled and suffocated with a plastic bag, and Jonathan's skull had been shattered with a blunt object.

Jose Hernandez has been charged with murder in all four deaths. Common Pleas Court Judge Eugene H. Clarke Jr. is expected to send the case to the jury Monday, after final arguments from defense attorney Bernard L. Siegel and Assistant District Attorney Bashi Buba.

Siegel has contended from the start of the trial two weeks ago that Catalino Hernandez killed his wife and two young sons. The elder Hernandez, according to Siegel and several defense witnesses, was a bullying father who harassed and abused Jose all his life.

Yesterday, Jose Hernandez testified that he killed his father after his father had killed Carmen and, probably, the two boys as well.

His father, said Hernandez, came home early on the morning of March 14, 1988, to find his wife sobbing on his son's shoulder. She was crying because Jose had intimated to her that the elder Hernandez - who had been out all night - was seeing another woman.

Catalino Hernandez angrily accused his son of having an affair with Carmen - an accusation he had made before, Jose Hernandez testified.

Leaving his father and stepmother to quarrel, Jose went to his bedroom but left the door open, he testified. He said he could see his stepmother sitting on the couch in the living room, her back to him. His father, he said, was standing.

After 20 minutes of quarreling, Hernandez testifed, he heard a shot. His stepmother put her hands to her head, and he heard her scream or make "a loud sound." A second shot was fired, and he closed his bedroom door, he said.

Some time later, his father forced him to gather up the bodies of Carmen, Frankie and Jonathan, wrap them in plastic bags and sheeting, and pile them in the bathtub, he said. His father, he testified, also made him clean up the bloodied apartment.

Later, Hernandez testified, his father insisted that the two drive around in the son's car. Jose Hernandez drove; his father was holding a gun.

Suddenly, he said, his father clutched his head and leaned forward. Jose

Hernandez said he took the gun and shot his father once and then again. He left the body in the car and parked it in a lot near the family's apartment, he said.

For the next week, he testified, he thought constantly of killing himself. In the meantime, he was staying with his girlfriend, attending school and returning occasionally to the apartment to feed the family pets. After three days, he retrieved his car, wrapped his father's head in plastic - as he said he had been forced to do with the other family members - stuffed the body in an Army duffel bag, and dragged it up to the apartment. There, he dumped it on top of the others.

Relatives discovered the bodies a week after the killings.

"I was going to kill myself right then, that day," he testified. But he had left his gun at his girlfriend's house, so he fled. He was arrested three days later at a truck stop in Tennessee.

On cross examination, Buba challenged Hernandez's account on several points, questioning him so vigorously that her voice rose to a near-shriek more than once. He stuck to the details of his testimony and remained composed despite her attempts to shake him.

The blood in the car, Buba pointed out, was of two types: One matched his father's and the other was the same type as one of his stepbrothers'. How could he explain the presence of that second blood type, Buba asked, unless he had carried the boy's body to the car to dispose of it? Why was Carmen

Hernandez's blood in the barrel of the gun, indicating that she had been the last one shot, rather than her husband? Why did he shoot his father, after taking the gun from him?

"Your father didn't have a weapon then - you had it," she pressed him.

How could he have left his father's body in a parked car for three days, without detection? Buba wondered. How did he manage to lug the body up three flights of stairs? Why hadn't he killed himself, after all?

"You had all week to kill yourself and you didn't do it," Buba shouted, prompting an objection by Siegel.

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