(WICHITA, Kan.) — For years, a Valley Center woman's death was called an accident. But now it's being called a homicide and the man charged with her death is in court this week for a preliminary hearing. Prosecutors say Daniel Perez led a commune and lived off of the life insurance money of its dead members.
Homicide isn't the only charge. Perez faces about 30 others, including rape and fraud. It's a complicated case that spans several years. The man in question also has two names. Perez is also known by many as Lou Castro. Many of the people who took the stand Tuesday didn't want to be identified. But their testimony started to reveal the state's case and evidence against Perez.
Suspicious relatives led the state to new evidence in the 2003 drowning death of Patricia Hughes. Her death on the compound along north Oliver in Valley Center was originally classified as an accident.
When Hughes died, her husband Brian was the benefactor of her $2 million life insurance policy. Three years later, Brian Hughes died in South Dakota after a car fell on top of him. His life insurance policy in the amount of $500,000 went to a woman on the compound.
His young daughter with Patricia, went into the custody of Jennifer Hutson, another compound member. She died two years later in 2008 in a head on collision. That's when Hughes' daughter went to Texas to live with her grandparents.
In 2010, the grandparents started to question why their granddaughter never received any money in the death of her parents. That's when prosecutors turned their attention to Perez and began to find out more about the crimes he allegedly committed.
Some of those other crimes include rape and sodomy against three girls who lived on the compound. One of them testified Tuesday and described in graphic detail how Perez, who she knew as Lou Castro sexually assaulted her several times starting when she was 12-years-old. The other victims are expected to testify when the preliminary hearing resumes Wednesday morning.
Anne Meyer will be back in the courtroom, continuing a live blog on the case. Read below for her recap of Tuesday's hearing.