The leader of a Kansas commune that prosecutors say lived off insurance payouts following the deaths of group members is set to stand trial on a murder charge in the 2003 drowning of one of them — a young mother whose death he allegedly foretold weeks before it happened.
Daniel U. Perez, a 55-year-old self-proclaimed seer, is charged with first-degree premeditated murder in the death of Patricia Hughes, 26, at the group's compound in the Wichita suburb of Valley Center. Jury selection begins Monday in Sedgwick County District Court. Authorities have investigated several deaths linked to the group, but the Wichita trial will deal only with Hughes' death and other crimes that allegedly occurred while its fewer than a dozen members lived communally in Sedgwick County.
The bizarre case led investigators through a web of false identities and money that stretched through Texas, South Dakota, Missouri, Kansas and Tennessee. Its members lived together in one large home or in houses in close proximity, and they moved from state to state. They have apparently dispersed since Perez, who had assumed the false identity of Lou Castro, was first arrested in 2010 on identity theft charges and sent to federal prison for two years.
Kansas authorities unsealed the state charges in 2012 as soon as he finished that sentence, and he has been jailed awaiting trial ever since. Investigators initially believed Hughes drowned while trying to rescue her 2-year-old daughter from a swimming pool. But they reclassified her death as a homicide after a woman came forward and said it had been staged to look like an accident.