May 29, 2012

Witnesses: Perez controlled life at Valley Center compound, sometimes violently

Daniel Perez was a controlling, sometimes violent head of the “family” that once lived on a Valley Center compound, witnesses said Tuesday.

Daniel Perez was a controlling, sometimes violent head of the “family” that once lived on a Valley Center compound, witnesses said Tuesday.

The testimony came during the first of a two- to three-day preliminary hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to take Perez to trial on nearly 40 charges, including first-degree murder of a woman who lived at the compound, and sex crimes against children.

In a quiet – at times defiant – voice, a woman who lived at the compound for several years with her mother and younger sister said that Perez forced her to have sex more than 100 times beginning when she was 16 or 17 and threatened to harm her parents if she told anyone.

The woman, now 27, said she and her sister suffered one particularly brutal night at the compound in the 9500 block of North Oliver.

In a shop area in one of the compound buildings, while others slept, the woman said Perez fired two rounds at her, missing her. He ordered her, her younger sister and another young woman to take off their clothes and ordered them to a house where he repeatedly raped or sodomized the sisters, the woman said.

Eventually, around 2009, Perez and some other members of the compound moved to Tennessee, and eventually she told someone about what happened to her, she said.

Asked why, she said, “Because he needed to be charged with the horrible things he had done to me and my family.”

After she said that, as Perez did from time to time throughout the day’s testimony, he appeared to smile. The woman avoided looking at him.

The Eagle is not naming the woman and other witnesses to protect the identity of people who are alleged to be victims of sex crimes.

Death of Patricia Hughes

Perez, 52, is charged with first-degree murder in the 2003 death of Patricia Hughes, a 26-year-old mother and wife who lived at one of the houses that made up the rural compound north of Kechi. For years, her death was thought to have been an accidental drowning at a swimming pool on the property.

Authorities have not said how she died or how they came to accuse Perez of killing her. Today’s testimony is expected to deal more with her death.

At a preliminary hearing, the evidence typically comes only from the prosecution; the defense gets to question the evidence. A judge must consider the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution in deciding whether the case should go to trial.

According to court documents, Perez used aliases and false identification and had been a fugitive since 1997 from Texas, where he had been convicted of child-sex crimes.

A series of deaths in Kansas and other states – all people associated with Perez and his traveling entourage – has raised questions for years. According to a court document, there have been about a dozen deaths involving members of the group, who lived off life insurance payouts resulting from the deaths.

Other witnesses testified that while Perez and several others lived on the compound, he directed who would be beneficiaries of life insurance policies that paid out millions of dollars, including over the death of woman for which he is now facing a murder charge.

He was never listed as a beneficiary, but those around him were.

He chose fancy new vehicles, but had someone else sign for the loans.

Life at the compound

The woman who testified about being sexual assaulted by Perez said she first met him around 2001, when she was 16 or 17.

For a while, until Perez moved into his own new home on the compound, she and her mother and younger sister had lived with Perez in another compound house. She said the incident with the gun occurred around 2007 in a shop/pool area on the compound. This is her account:

She, her little sister and another young woman were sitting on bar stools one night when Perez was “mad at me for some reason, and he was threatening me. He was pointing his gun at me and telling me if I didn’t start acting right, he was going to take me to purgatory.”

It was a black, single-barrel gun that she thought was an M-16. “He pointed it at my head” from a few feet away. Her little sister and the other woman were “scared and threatened also.”

After making them taking off their clothes and having them go to the house, he made the other woman leave the room and raped and sodomized the two sisters.

Other times, she said, he pushed her into having sex over and over, saying there was “something wrong with me and he needed to fix it.” He said he would hurt her or someone in her family if “I didn’t do what he wanted me to do.”

She recalled the June day in 2003 that Patricia Hughes died in what for years was thought to be an accidental drowning. That day, she said, Perez drove up next to her in a Corvette, as she was getting ready to leave the compound in another vehicle, and said, “Let’s go.”

They both drove to an auto dealership that he frequented when looking for new vehicles. At the dealership, he got a call on his cellphone saying there was an emergency back home. Hughes had been taken away in an ambulance.

Earlier Tuesday, a prosecutor said the evidence would show that Perez directed a witness to tell a false story to police about how Hughes drowned.

Under questioning by defense attorney Alice Osburn, the woman said she didn’t see wet clothes on Perez that day or injuries on him while at the dealership.

When Osburn asked whether Perez was drunk the night of the alleged shooting, the woman said, “Probably. He drank a lot.”

Another witness testified that Perez tried to persuade her and her daughter to come and live at the compound. She said he told her: “I’m here to help people, and it’s all about the children.”

Investigators told her they have found images of her then-8-year-old daughter shown in a sexually provocative way, allegedly at Perez’s direction and with his involvement. The images apparently had been taken at the compound, without the mother’s knowledge.

The mother said she and her daughter stopped going to the compound because “there was too much drinking going on.”

The daughter, now 14, testified that Perez would hug her tight; “I thought it was really weird,” she said. The girl said she also saw Perez kiss a teen girl on the lips and touch her bottom. The teen lived at the compound, which has been described as including three houses and a large shop area and pool, on a 10- to 20-acre tract.

The girl said she and her parents became suspicious that a number of people associated with the compound had died.

Bill Hatton, a retired life insurance representative, testified about policies taken out on members of the compound, including those who died, and said that Perez directed the amounts and who would be the beneficiary.

When defense attorney Steve Osburn asked whether there was anything odd, Hatton replied, “Yeah, ... in that Lou (the fake name he used) was there all the time directing it. … I didn’t understand how that all came down.”

Hatton said Perez and Hughes told him that they had “just kind of formed a bond together, the family units” and that it “didn’t operate like most families.”

When prosecutor Kim Parker asked Hatton whether Perez ever took out a life insurance policy on his own life, Hatton said, “No, he did not.”

Hatton said he first met Perez, whom he knew as Lou Castro, around 2002.

A $1 million policy had been obtained on Hughes, the woman who drowned.

At the same time, a life insurance policy was taken out on the life of Brian Hughes, Patricia’s husband. His policy was for $250,000.

After both died in what were determined to be accidents, the actual payout was double because of an accidental death benefit, or $2 million for Patricia Hughes and $500,000 for Brian Hughes.

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