Driver Guilty of Cyclist’s Murder
A Buena Park man was convicted of first-degree murder Wednesday for running his car into a teenage bicyclist, who hurtled through the windshield and bled to death as he lay in the passenger seat before being dumped 13 miles away.
Jurors will start hearing evidence today that Isidro Hernandez, 30, was insane when he killed John La Bord, 18, in 1999, the day before the teen was to become the first in his family to attend college.
If found sane, Hernandez could be sentenced to life in prison. In addition to murder, Hernandez was convicted of kidnapping, felony hit-and-run and falsifying an insurance claim.
“I’m disappointed that they came back with a first-degree murder verdict,” said Hernandez’s lawyer, Mark Smith. “I still have faith in the jurors that they will do the right thing when it comes to the sanity phase.”
Key evidence in the case against Hernandez included testimony by former Anaheim resident Jeff Knight, who suffered minor injuries when he was struck and thrown from his bicycle by a car later identified as belonging to Hernandez, Deputy Dist. Atty. Howard Gundy said.
The incident, which took place three months before La Bord’s death, showed Hernandez’s intent to kill, the prosecutor said after the verdict was read.
“If we didn’t have Jeff Knight, it would have been a different case,” Gundy said. “That crash was very indicative of what he was thinking. He wanted John La Bord to die.”
La Bord’s mother, who has attended every day of the weeklong trial, smiled briefly but did not comment outside the Santa Ana courtroom.
The jury spent just over a day deliberating before finding Hernandez guilty. His father, Modesto Hernandez, said afterward that he respected jurors’ opinions but declined to speak further.
La Bord, a rock musician who was buried with his electric Gibson guitar, was hit about 11:30 p.m. Aug. 22, 1999, while pedaling home from a summer job at the Block at Orange. While riding on Orangewood Avenue in Anaheim, he slowed to chat with three friends.
His friends said they heard a loud bang, and then La Bord was gone, his mangled blue bicycle lying on the street.
Witnesses and crime scene evidence revealed that Hernandez’s headlights were off as he drove and that he may have accelerated just before hitting La Bord.
La Bord’s body was found in Irvine, dumped on a dirt median next to Highway 133, a toll road near the closed El Toro Marine base.
The day after the crash, his insurance agent testified, Hernandez called to report a broken windshield and was emphatic that it be repaired immediately.
Hernandez was arrested a few days later after neighbors saw news reports of the hit-and-run, then observed Hernandez scrubbing his crumpled car. Coroner investigators testified that La Bord’s blood was found inside the car and smeared on the hood, mixed with bleach that apparently had been used to clean the vehicle.
“Covering up the crime shows consciousness of guilt,” Gundy told jurors during his closing statement. He later rebutted Hernandez’s claims of mental illness-connected delusions, saying, “If he was out of touch with reality, why wasn’t he acting like it?”
Hernandez’s lawyer has maintained that his client’s schizophrenia eliminated his capacity to premeditate or plan the killing or display the normal signs of guilt in its aftermath.
For example, Smith said, Hernandez parked his car at his apartment rather than dumping it and told a neighbor that he had been in an accident at the Block at Orange.
“Either he doesn’t have the conscience of a guilty person,” Smith told jurors during his closing argument, “or he has mental problems.”
Hernandez’s father testified that the family had tried several times to stop the son from driving because of his mental illness and the side effects of antipsychotic medicine.
Isidro Hernandez’s psychiatrist arranged for him to get a bus pass “to ensure he wouldn’t have to drive,” Smith said during his closing argument.
“For Mr. Hernandez to be behind the wheel, he would be a danger to himself and others.”