Killer of Lincoln police officer sentenced to decades in prison

May 25, 2022, 7 p.m. ·

A close up of Felipe Vazquez as he sits in court during his sentencing for murder
Felipe Vazquez sits in court during listening as his sentence for murder is announced. (Photo: Justin Wan)

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The daughter of slain Lincoln police investigator Mario Herrara stood before the man who killed him and called him "a coward." She challenged him to turn around and face the family in the courtroom gallery.

Amelia Herrera speaks in court
Amelia Herrera, daughter of Investigator Herrera, speaks in court during the sentencing of her father's killer. (Photo: Justin Wan)

Felipe Vazquez remained looking straight ahead. Minutes later, he was sentenced to decades in prison for killing a popular and respected 23-year veteran of the Lincoln Police Department.

Vazquez was 17 years old when police, holding an arrest warrant, surrounded him and a friend inside a house in central Lincoln. After police attempted to talk him out, Vazquez jumped out a window, firing a pistol. A bullet hit Herrera in the chest. He died days later.

At the trial held in Columbus to avoid the effects of pre-trial publicity, no one disputed Vazquez fired the gun. At the time, his defense attorney argued Vazquez never intended to murder the officer and urged the jury to consider a lesser charge than premeditated murder.

The jury found him guilty of first-degree murder after eight hours of deliberation.

That set the stage for Wednesday's sentencing hearing.

Defense attorney Nancy Peterson asked for some leniency in the court's sentencing. Vasquez was just 17 when the murder occurred, "just a child," in her words.

Lancaster County Attorney Patrick Condon
Lancaster County Attorney Pat Condon speaks during the Vazquez sentencing hearing. (Photo: Justin Wan)
Lancaster County District Judge Andrew Jacobsen
Lancaster County District Judge Andrew Jacobson announces the sentence. (Photo: Justin Wan)

Pat Condon, the Lancaster County Attorney, offered an alternative version of Vazquez's path. The teenager turned away from the help he was offered several times when he got in trouble as a juvenile.

On the day of the murder, when escaping and firing his weapon, "he made that thoughtful and deliberate choice," Condon told the court. "And when he got out of the house," as Vazquez told his companion that day, "it was either him or me. He said it was the officer or him."

Condon asked the judge to impose "severe consequences" not only in the hopes someone else will change their mind about committing a crime but to "tell Mr. Vasquez, there are consequences to your actions and that you will not give him the opportunity to hurt another person."

Lancaster County District Court Judge Andrew Jacobsen sentenced Vazquez to not less than 70 years in prison, with the potential for a lifetime in prison. In addition to the time served for murder, Felipe Vazquez could remain jailed for a maximum of 96 years when combining sentences for six other charges. Those include gun possession, fleeing to avoid arrest, and an attempted assault on a second officer.

A complex formula of sentencing determines how much time Vasquez will be housed in correctional facilities.

Before Judge Jacobsen issued his sentence, the killer and his victim's family were provided the opportunity to say their piece.

Dressed in his jail-issued uniform, Vasquez stood and unfolded his written statement. "Mom and Dad, I love y'all," he read. "Know I will forever be your son, and I'm proud to have you as my parents."

In a soft voice, he continued, "Judge. I know you've got a tough decision to make today. To the family of Mario Luis Herrera, I know times have been hard without him, and due to my poor decision making you're at a loss, but when you are comfortable, I ask for your forgiveness."

Family of slain police officer Mario Hererra at the sentencing hearing of his killer
Carrie Hererra, in denim jacket, sits with her children during the sentencing hearing for her husband's murderer. (Photo: Justin Wan)

When the Judge allowed Mario Herrera's daughter Adelina to speak, she was not ready to offer forgiveness, telling the court, "this is directed at the kid who killed my dad."

For just over two minutes, the 19-year-old spoke directly to Vasquez, telling him that when the murder occurred, she was his age.

"But I didn't get to be that 17-year-old and make dumb mistakes because I had to be mature. And so did my siblings. My sister was 17 at this time too, and she doesn't get to make dumb mistakes either because she had to mature as well because of your actions."

She said the family noticed Vazquez had not looked at the family throughout the trial in March and never appeared to show any remorse.

The daughter's voice had been steady until she looked toward the spectators in the filled courtroom when it began to shake with emotion.

"Here's your chance you can look at all of my family: my mom, my siblings, my grandma, my aunts, and my uncles, and every single cop that my dad worked with."

She concluded, telling Vazquez, "you were a coward at that time. And you still are, and you always will be."

Vasquez did not turn to look at the family or the police officers in the courtroom gallery. Most officers covered their badges with a black band reading 12-05, the badge number of Investigator Mario Herrara.