Jurors weigh case of Kansas commune leader accused of murder

AP News
Posted: Feb 17, 2015 9:39 PM

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Jurors on Tuesday began weighing the case of a Kansas commune leader who's accused of killing a member, living off life insurance payments and sexually abusing some members' children.

A Sedgwick County jury deliberated a few hours before being adjourned until Wednesday. Daniel Perez is charged with first-degree premeditated murder in the 2003 drowning of 26-year-old Patricia Hughes at the group's compound near Wichita.

District Attorney Marc Bennett told jurors during closing arguments Tuesday that Perez, 55, must be held accountable and that his "run has come to an end."

Perez's attorney, Alice Osburn, who called Hughes' death "an accident," pushed for an acquittal. She argued that Perez was only an employee of the 20-acre commune and not the leader.

"It is reasonable to have doubt on every single one of the claims that has to be proven and because of that the law says you must find Mr. Perez not guilty," Osburn told the jury, according to KWCH-TV.

Several women testified Perez coerced them into sexual encounters when they were underage. Others testified about millions in life insurance policies sold to people associated with Perez who later died.

Perez has denied the allegations.

Jurors are deliberating over 28 counts. Besides premeditated murder, he also faces charges including rape, aggravated criminal sodomy, sexual exploitation of a child and making false information.

Perez is accused of manipulating his followers by convincing them he was a "seer" who could foretell the future, of sexually abusing some of their young daughters, and of ordering them to falsify car credit and life insurance applications so he could lead a lavish lifestyle, the Wichita Eagle reported.