WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Bond was set at $2 million Thursday for a man charged with murder in the 2003 death of a Kansas woman whose drowning was initially ruled an accident, along with several other charges including rape and child sexual exploitation.
Daniel U. Perez, 52, appeared in court via video hookup from the Sedgwick County jail on 39 criminal counts, including premeditated murder in the death of Patricia Hughes. Court documents indicate that both were living with a group of people in central Kansas now linked to several deaths, and Hughes' death was reclassified as a homicide amid evidence that the group was living off life insurance policies.
Investigators initially believed the 26-year-old mother accidently drowned while trying to rescue her 2-year-old daughter from a residential pool at a home in Valley Center, a city just north of Wichita where the group was living at the time. Authorities reclassified her death as a homicide in September.
Two criminal complaints unsealed Thursday show that Perez is facing numerous charges, including one count of sexual exploitation of an 8-year-old child and 11 counts each of rape and sodomy. He also is charged with making a criminal threat as well as several counts each of aggravated assault involving a rifle and making false statements to obtain credit from a Wichita car dealership.
He also is accused of making false statements on life insurance applications in 2006.
Sedgwick County District Judge Warren Wilbert set bond at $2 million bond pending a preliminary hearing Feb. 2. The charges were initially filed in September but had been kept under seal while Perez finished serving a federal sentence for identity theft in Oklahoma before being extradited to Kansas to face the state charges.
Perez's court-appointed attorney, Alice Osburn, did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press for comment.
The group of people lived together in at least three different states, either in one large home or in houses in close proximity, and was living in Valley Center at the time of Hughes' death, according to Martin Bauer, the attorney for Hughes' parents, who were recently granted legal guardianship of their now 11-year-old granddaughter.
Hughes' death is among at least 10 deaths linked to the group, according to court documents in the guardianship case. The girl's father, Brian Hughes, was killed in 2006 while changing a tire, and two years later the girl's guardian, Jennifer Hutson, was killed in a traffic accident.
The girl's maternal grandparents won custody in 2010, after federal and state investigators alerted them that the child could be in "imminent danger."
"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," Bauer wrote in a July 2010 filing seeking custody for the grandparents.
The judge found that the girl was in "imminent danger" and granted the maternal grandparents guardianship.
Filings in that guardianship case in Kansas indicate detectives told the grandparents in 2010 that the man they knew as Lou Castro was in fact Perez, who had been charged in 1997 with multiple counts in several cases with felony indecency with a child-sexual contact and had fled before sentencing.
Investigators also told the grandparents about the federal case filed against Perez in Kansas for aggravated identity theft. In that case, he listed the same Tennessee address where their granddaughter was residing at the time.