WICHITA, Kan. – A Kansas commune leader accused of killing a group member directed a child to lie to police about the woman's 2003 death, a prosecutor said Tuesday as a preliminary hearing got under way.
Prosecutor Kim Parker began laying out the case against Daniel U. Perez during the hearing, which is expected to last two to three days. Prosecutors must show a judge enough evidence to justify a murder trial.
Law enforcement officials have refused to say what led them to charge Perez, 52, with premeditated first-degree murder in the death of 26-year-old Patricia Hughes. Police first believed Hughes drowned while trying to rescue her 2-year-old daughter from swimming a pool at the Valley Center compound where the commune once lived.
The hearing is expected to offer the first public glimpse into the state's case against the leader of a group whose members are accused of living lavishly off millions of dollars in life insurance payouts from dead commune members.
Retired insurance salesman Bill Hatton testified that he wrote five policies for group members, including a $2 million one on Hughes. Perez directed the amounts and beneficiaries of all the policies, even though he was not listed on them, Hatton said.
The insurance salesman said Perez told him that the group members had formed a family bond.
Perez was known for years as Lou Castro, a false identity. He also faces multiple counts of lying on life insurance applications, rape, sodomy, criminal threat and making false statements on auto credit applications.
Hughes' parents have alleged in court documents that the group is linked to other deaths including those of two people linked to Hughes' daughter.
Perez was arrested in 2010 in Nashville, Tenn., on a federal identity theft charge, and served his federal sentence before being transferred to Kansas in January to face state charges that were filed under seal months earlier.
His adult daughter, Windy Aleman, has told The Associated Press that Hughes helped Perez flee Texas before his 1997 sentencing on child sex charges. Aleman said she doesn't believe her father would have hurt the woman who once risked everything by hiding him.