SAGUACHE — Jose Perez, 27, was a good-natured, hardworking boy who graduated from Center High School, finished automotive school and had a promising future, his relatives, teachers and friends testified in a lengthy video played in court during his sentencing hearing Monday.
But that was before his addiction to heroin and methamphetamines changed his life forever, finally leading to the murder of a Center man in a drug deal gone wrong.
Police arrested Perez on Feb. 25, 2016 during a traffic stop, nearly two months after the New Year’s Day homicide of Ivan Antonio Alfaro Sanchez, 26, in an apartment complex near 27 Highway 112 in Center. Perez and an accomplice, Juan Vega, 29, entered the apartment where the two shut Sanchez’s girlfriend and children in a bathroom. Perez then shot Sanchez, who was later pronounced dead at the scene.
Perez was initially charged with first-degree murder, first-degree burglary, second-degree kidnapping and other charges. He later entered a plea agreement of guilty on second-degree murder charges and second-degree kidnapping.
Deputy District Attorney Brandon Willms reminded the court that to escape the crime scene, Sanchez’s girlfriend had to step over the body of her boyfriend, and the children had to see the dead body of their father. He indicated that was reason enough in itself to hand down the maximum sentence for Perez.
The families in the video painted a bleak picture of the town, explaining how it has been ravaged by heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine abuse. But despite their pleas for leniency, Judge Martin Gonzales told those gathered in the courtroom he had no choice according to current sentencing guidelines but to hand down the maximum sentence of 44 years — 12 years on the kidnapping charge and 32 years for second-degree murder, to be served consecutively.
Perez could be up for a parole hearing in 26 years, but there are no guarantees he would be paroled then or even at a later date, Willms said.
Judge Gonzales addresses Center residents
“I come from a small community,” Gonzales began. “I know what’s going on. This epidemic of drugs is ripping families and communities apart. I don’t know if there is an end to it. One of the things that struck me [in the video], I heard a lot of ‘he was.’ It was all past tense — no future tense. Those who said they couldn’t believe it, had better believe it…
“Is he a bad person? I couldn’t say either way. [They said in the video] ‘It was the drugs, it wasn’t him,’ but I beg to differ. It was him who pulled the trigger and [nothing] will change that — he did it. If it was the drugs then someone should have grabbed him by the ear and taken him to treatment.
“One lady said she dropped him a text,” Gonzales noted, after she realized Perez was into drugs and had changed drastically. “But why didn’t she drop the dime [on the people she says were selling the drugs]? This is a problem in our society and you are society. If you fail, this society fails. Perez is just the symptom of the problem and you’d better get it under control. Ask yourselves what could I have done differently — what could I have changed? That is the question you need to answer.
“It is necessary to drive home the seriousness of what happened. He took a life, a brother of the community. Don’t look away, have the courage to confront those with problems who are poisoning the community. Have the courage to grab these kids and… do whatever it takes to avoid the path they are on.”
Gonzales ended by saying he hoped all the parties involved received closure as the result of the verdict.