The leader of a commune believed to have been living off the life insurance payouts of its dead members will stand trial.Â A judge ruled Thursday that there’s enough evidence against Daniel Perez for his case to go before a jury.Â
Perez, who also goes by Lou Castro, is accused of 38 crimes.Â He’s charged with first degree murder in the 2003 death of Patricia Hughes along with dozens of other charges including rape, sodomy, sexual exploitation of a child and making false statements on life insurance claims.
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Authorities charged Perez after a young woman who was 12 years old at the time of Hughes’ death told investigators that Perez, who called himself a seer, had foretold of Hughes drowning a couple of weeks earlier. She testified last week that Hughes knew she was going to die and assured her she would come back from the dead. […]
Although Perez is charged with only one murder count for the 2003 death of Hughes, several members who carried hefty life insurance policies also have died. A 2001 airplane crash near Norris, S.D., killed Mona Griffith, her 12-year-old daughter and her boyfriend. Others include the 2006 death of Brian Hughes, the slain woman’s husband, when he was crushed by a car when a jack apparently failed and the 2008 death of Jennifer Hutson in a head-on collision with a dump truck. […]
Defense attorney Steve Osburn questioned whether the allegedly false income information on life insurance applications and car loans mattered to anybody. He noted testimony that the Wichita car dealership sold 35 or 40 vehicles to the group in about a four-year period, about one vehicle every 40 days. Perez never signed any of the paperwork. […]
But Bennett questioned what would have happened had group members been truthful on those applications — that they were surviving off the death benefits of other people who died off in the group.
“Give me a break, of course it is material,” [prosecutor Marc] Bennett said. “If it weren’t for these false statements, no one would have sold them a car. No one would have sold them life insurance. No one would have had anything to do with these people.”