A jury has been seated in the case of a Valley Center commune leader charged with murder in one of his follower’s deaths nearly 12 years ago.
The Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office said opening statements will start at 9 a.m. Wednesday in the trial of 55-year-old Daniel Perez, who is accused of first-degree premeditated murder in the death of 26-year-old Patricia Hughes.
Hughes’ death was initially ruled accidental but was reclassified as a homicide in 2011 after a woman came forward claiming she helped stage the young mother’s drowning when she was 12. The girl initially told authorities Hughes had slipped and hit her head while trying to save her toddler from a pool.
Perez, according to testimony in his 2012 preliminary hearing, claimed to be a seer who could foretell the future, had sex with young girls and lived in a 20-acre compound north of Kechi known as Angel’s Landing. He and his communal “family” traveled from state to state living off of life insurance benefits in the deaths of his other followers.
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Perez, witnesses testified, directed who took out policies and the amounts and who received the payouts, but was never himself named a beneficiary.
While living in Kansas, Perez used the name Lou Castro. He had used false names and aliases since fleeing Texas in 1997 before he was set for sentencing in a child sex crimes case.
In all, Perez is charged with 37 counts in the Sedgwick County case. His other charges include rape, sodomy, sexual exploitation of a child, aggravated assault, criminal threat and directing that false information be put on life insurance and car credit applications.
Jury selection wrapped up at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said in an e-mail. Twelve jurors and two alternates — seven men and seven women — were chosen, he said. Jurors were selected from a pool of 70 people; others were on standby.
Sedgwick County District Court Judge Joseph Bribiesca will preside over Perez’s trial. It’s expected to last longer than a week.