Commune leader accused of drowning woman for insurance money

When Patricia Hughes drowned in June 2003, police initially believed a neighbor girl who told them the young mother had been trying to rescue her 2-year-old daughter from a residential pool when she accidentally drowned.

The Associated Press reports

a prosecutor told a judge Tuesday that her death was actually premeditated first-degree murder perpetrated by Daniel U. Perez, 52, and that the girl now will testify that Perez directed her to tell “a false story to police” about how Hughes drowned in the pool.

The comments from prosecutor Kim Parker came as the preliminary hearing for Perez got under way with prosecutors portraying with their witnesses a domineering leader who got group members and friends alike to do his bidding, sometimes with threats of violence.

Prosecutors must show a judge enough evidence to justify a trial on murder and other charges during a preliminary hearing that is expected to last two to three days.


Referring to Perez as a ‘cult leader,’ the Daily Mail says that

During Tuesday’s hearing, the prosecution portrayed Perez as a domineering commune leader who got group members and friends alike to do his bidding, sometimes with threats of violence.

Perez was known for years as Lou Castro, a false identity he assumed after fleeing Texas following his conviction on child sex charges.

In addition to the murder charge, he now also faces multiple counts of lying on life insurance applications, rape, sodomy, criminal threat, making false statements on auto credit applications and sexual exploitation of a child.

This week’s court proceedings offered the first public glimpse into the state’s case against the leader of a Valley Center commune 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 $2million 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.

The Associated Press says that

In court documents filed in a custody dispute over the slain woman’s orphaned daughter, Hughes’ parents – who also live in Beeville, Texas – have alleged that the group is linked to multiple deaths.

According to The Witchita Eagle

Hughes’ parents went to court in 2010 to get guardianship of Hughes’ daughter, who was 2 when her mother died. They contended that Hughes’ death was one of about a dozen deaths that had something in common: The people who died had been associated with Perez, the man now charged in her death, or two other people, court documents say. The documents also say that Perez used an alias of Lou Castro.

“There is a pattern that members of a group associated with the person using the name of Lou Castro have followed of insuring members of the group and then living off the proceeds of the life insurance policies when one of them dies,” the grandparents’ attorney said in a July 2010 document in the guardianship case. The document goes on to say, “Lou Castro is in fact Daniel U. Perez.”

Kansas TV station KSN reports that

A woman who lived on the compound as a teen says Perez raped her more than 100 times as a teen.  She testified her younger sister was sexually assaulted as well.  The witness’s younger sister is expected to take the stand Wednesday claiming Perez forced her to help cover up Hughes’ alleged murder.

The Kansas City Star says Perez is charged with multiple sex crimes against children:

The new charges against Perez, who became a fugitive after being convicted of sex crimes with a child in Texas in the 1990s, include 36 counts. Among the charges: sexual exploitation of an 8-year-old; rape of a 10-year-old; aggravated criminal sodomy against a 10-year-old. Most of the sex crimes involved two victims and occurred from 2002 to 2009 in Sedgwick County, court documents say.

One of the charges alleges a rape “when consent was obtained through a knowing misrepresentation made by Daniel U. Perez that the sexual intercourse was a medically or therapeutically necessary procedure.”

Aggravated assault charges allege that Perez threatened three people with a rifle. […]

Perez had been charged in Texas in 1997 and had been convicted in Texas of multiple counts of felony indecency with a child-sexual contact, said an affidavit filed in Sedgwick County District Court. Perez fled before sentencing in the Texas case, court documents say. Around November 2010, he pleaded guilty in federal court in Kansas to aggravated identity theft and was facing a two-year sentence, documents show.

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This post was last updated: May. 30, 2012