Witness says Kansas commune leader foretold death

WICHITA, Kan. — When it was Patricia Hughes' turn to die in 2003 — as the commune's leader and so-called seer predicted weeks earlier — the young mother kissed her 2-year-old daughter goodbye and reassured another child she would come back from the dead, a witness testified Wednesday.

The young woman, who was 12 years old at the time, took the stand at the preliminary hearing for Daniel U. Perez, 52, for first-degree premeditated murder. The Associated Press is not identifying her because she is an alleged rape victim.

"I remember being teary-eyed because I didn't want Trish to die," she testified.

Law enforcement officials have refused to say what led them to charge Perez, 52, with killing Hughes. Police first believed Hughes, 26, drowned while trying to rescue her daughter from swimming a pool at the commune's Valley Center compound.

The young woman told the court Wednesday that Hughes helped unfurl the pool vacuum so it would look like Hughes' death was accidental.

"Then I gave Trish a hug and they said go wait in the office of the shop," the woman testified. She recalled hearing a splash and a scream, she said, and shook while she held Hughes' toddler.

When Perez came to the shop later, his forearms were wet and he was out of breath.

"He seemed kind of flustered, kind of sad," she testified.

Perez had told her to wait 20 minutes before she went out into the pool with the toddler, so she kept the little girl busy playing with kittens, she testified. She recalled asking why she needed to get into the pool, and was told it was so their clothes would be wet.

When she went to the pool, she said she saw Hughes clad in a red shirt and black shorts with sandals, floating face-down in the shallow part of the pool. The woman also testified that the toddler started crying because she didn't want to get into the water. But, the woman said, she picked up the toddler and jumped into the pool.

The woman testified that she later called 911 and told authorities the false story Perez had instructed her to provide: that Hughes fell and hit her head while trying to rescue her daughter, who had fallen into the pool.

Over time, Perez assured her the false story was actually what happened, the woman said in court, telling her that her memory was different because he controlled time and places and had therefore put her in a different place to protect her.

The woman told the judge that Perez also had foretold of commune member Jennifer Hudson's death a year before she swerved in front of a dump truck and was killed.

She also testified that Perez began sexually abusing her when she was 10 years old.

For years, Perez was known as Lou Castro, a false identity. Perez also faces multiple counts of lying on life insurance applications, rape, sodomy, criminal threat and making false statements on auto credit applications.

Hughes' parents have alleged in court documents that the group is linked to other deaths, including those of two people linked to their daughter.

Perez was arrested in 2010 in Nashville, Tenn., on a federal identity theft charge, and served his federal sentence before being transferred to Kansas in January to face state charges that were filed under seal months earlier.