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Watch now: Man who shot Lincoln officer sentenced to 70 years to life in prison for murder

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Felipe Vazquez sentencing, 5.25

Felipe Vazquez listens as he is sentenced to 70 years to life for the first-degree murder of Lincoln Police Officer Mario Herrera on Wednesday in Lancaster County District Court.

Family of late Lincoln Police Investigator Mario Herrera reacts to the sentencing of Felipe Vazquez, Wednesday, May 25, 2022.

Rain spit down on a gray Wednesday as Officer Mario Herrera's family and fellow Lincoln police officers packed into a third-floor courtroom and an overflow courtroom to watch a judge sentence the teen who shot and killed him in 2020.

Felipe Vazquez, now 19, was 17 on Aug. 26, 2020, when he tried to escape from police who came to arrest him on the other side of his brother's locked bedroom door, breaking the window, jumping out and firing off three shots from a stolen gun.

Felipe Vazquez sentencing, 5.25

Felipe Vazquez (center) and his attorney Nancy Peterson (left) look on during his sentencing for the first-degree murder of Lincoln Police Officer Mario Herrera on Wednesday in Lancaster County District Court.

"Society needs to be protected from Mr. Vazquez's dangerousness," Lancaster County District Judge Andrew Jacobsen said, before reading through each of seven counts.

He started with 70 years in prison to life for first-degree murder. Then went on to 59 to 86 years more for attempted assault on a second officer, escape and four gun charges.

The sentence means Vazquez won't be eligible for parole for roughly 70 years.

First-degree murder, as charged here, typically comes with an automatic life sentence. But because he was under 18 at the time, he faced 40 years to life, under Nebraska law.

"In my mind, the most important factor in this case is the age of Mr. Vazquez at the time these crimes were committed," said his attorney, Nancy Peterson, arguing for the judge not to give a life sentence. "He was little more than a child."

She said the law recognizes that 17-year-olds are different, and their brains still are developing. Coupled with his lack of opportunity and role models, she said, it helps to understand how he got to Aug. 26.

Mario Herrera

Mario Herrera

"Our hearts break for the Herrera family and for the community and everyone who lost a friend and colleague," she said.

Then, Vazquez offered a brief apology to the family for his actions, which cost Herrera his life.

"To the family of Mario Luis Herrera, I know times have been hard without him. Due to my poor decision-making, you're at a loss. But when comfortable, I ask for y'all forgiveness," the teen said.

Moments later, an at times tearful Adelina Herrera, who was 18 when her father was killed, stood at a podium, directing her comments to "the kid who killed my dad."

"On Sept. 7, 2020, my dad died and so did you," she said. "Your life ended the moment you shot and killed my dad, as living is more than just an existence."

Adelina Herrera said as she celebrates birthdays, graduates college, gets married someday and has kids of her own and grows old, Vazquez will still be sitting in a cell, the same 17-year-old kid that killed her dad.

Felipe Vazquez sentencing, 5.25

Adelina Herrera, daughter of Lincoln Police Officer Mario Herrera, speaks before Felipe Vazquez is sentenced on Wednesday in Lancaster County District Court.

Her dad's life wasn't meant to end early, she said, but at 50, he had a full and complete life.

"I could list off every single good quality he had, all of the good things he did and what an amazing police officer and person he was. But you don't care. You didn't care when you pulled the trigger and you don't care now," Adelina Herrera said, calling Vazquez a coward who deserved everything he gets.

Then, Lancaster County Attorney Pat Condon said: "They say this was a thoughtless and impulsive act, and that's how somebody that age acts. Yet for 20, 25 minutes he sat there negotiating with the officers, making up his mind which way he was going to go."

Out the door into the hallway, where he knew officers were waiting, or out the window and into the street, where he knew at least one officer was. Condon said Vazquez made that choice, and when he got into the street it was either the officer or him.

Felipe Vazquez

Vazquez

"By imposing the sentence, we tell Mr. Vazquez there are consequences to your actions and that you will not give him the opportunity to hurt another person, another family or another community again," he said.

In the end, Jacobsen said the court and the jury believed Vazquez's intentions were clear: He was shooting to wound or kill the officers in an attempt to escape.

After his arrest, just hours after having shot Herrera, he was recorded spitting on the floor of the interrogation room, singing rap songs and flashing gang signs to a camera.

"This is an indication to me that he harbored little to no remorse for his actions," Jacobsen said.

After sentencing, dozens of police officers poured out into the hallway and headed back down to the police station.

Celia Herrera, who is 17 now, stood beside her siblings and mother, Carrie Herrera.

Felipe Vazquez sentencing, 5.25

Carrie Herrera (center), widow of Lincoln Police Officer Mario Herrera, listens as Felipe Vazquez is sentenced to 70 years to life in prison for first-degree murder Wednesday in Lancaster County District Court.

"I think we're all glad that it's finally over," she said. "None of this will bring my dad back, but it's a little bit of peace of mind."

Carrie Herrera said you never want to ask why us.

"But you kind of ask, 'God, why did it happen to Mario' and, 'Why was their dad taken away.' Such a senseless act," she said.

Sighs of relief, hugs follow murder verdict against man who shot Lincoln officer
Witness says Vazquez told her if they came for him he would 'shoot at police or try to kill them'
Former cellmate says Vazquez told him 'it was either him or the cop'
Vazquez says 'It was never my intention to hurt an officer'

Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger

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Public safety reporter

Lori Pilger is a Norfolk native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been a public safety reporter for the Journal Star since 2005.

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