WICHITA – Prosecutors say a 55-year-old Kansas man accused of killing a member of his commune more than a decade ago was a brutal leader whose 15-year reign was marked by sexual violence and the deaths of six people.
Daniel Perez is charged with first-degree murder in the 2003 drowning death of Patricia Hughes at the group’s compound in Valley Center.
During opening statements in his trial on Wednesday, Perez’s attorney, Alice Osburn, told jurors her client did not kill Hughes and that all of the deaths at the commune were coincidental.
Osburn said the group shared $4 million in insurance payments from the dead members.
Perez also is accused of lying on life insurance applications, rape, sodomy, criminal threat, making false statements on credit applications and sexual exploitation of a child.
Valley Center is just north of Wichita.
Perez, according to testimony in his 2012 preliminary hearing, claimed to be a seer who could foretell the future, had sex with young girls and lived in a 20-acre compound known as Angel’s Landing. He and his communal “family” traveled from state to state living off of life insurance benefits in the deaths of his other followers.
Perez, witnesses testified, directed who took out policies and the amounts and who received the payouts, but was never himself named a beneficiary.
While living in Kansas, Perez used the name Lou Castro. He had used false names and aliases since fleeing Texas in 1997 before he was set for sentencing in a child sex crimes case.