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Father Will Not Face Retrial in Toddler's Death

Courts: Jorge Perez was acquitted of one molestation count, but jury deadlocked 10-2 for acquittal on murder charge.


SANTA ANA — A courtroom filled with applause Tuesday as a judge dismissed charges against a 36-year-old Santa Ana man who had been accused of murdering and molesting his 8-month-old daughter.

Jorge Perez, who maintained his innocence during his 21-month-long incarceration, hugged his attorney at the news, while his wife and supporters clapped in the audience.

"Justice really was done, against all odds," Deputy Public Defender Dan Bates said.

A jury acquitted Perez, 36, of one molestation charge last week, and deadlocked 10 to 2 in favor of acquittal on a murder charge. Jurors also deadlocked 7 to 5 in favor of acquitting Perez on a second molestation charge.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Camille Hill said prosecutors concluded they could not present any additional evidence that might help a jury reach a guilty verdict, and decided against seeking another trial.

"At this point, we are unable to proceed," she told Superior Court Judge David T. McEachen, who was filling in for the judge who presided over the trial.

Perez's wife said he "always expected this day," although there were times of anxiety.

Clarisa Perez, 34, said her husband's arrest compounded the tragedy of her daughter's death and prompted the county to take their 9-year-old daughter to Orangewood Children's Home for several months.

"It's been very difficult," she said.

Jorge Perez was arrested soon after the Nov. 18, 1994, suffocation of his baby daughter in the rented room he shared with his family.

Perez, a print shop employee who worked nights, said he took a nap with Kenya that afternoon, and that she had vanished when he woke up about an hour later.

He said when he got out of bed to see if a housemate had picked up the baby, he saw her body plunged headfirst into an empty bucket used as a clothes hamper.

The defense contended the baby accidentally fell in the bucket and suffocated.

A coroner's examination concluded that the child had been molested, but the defense said someone or something else could have caused the injuries.

Relatives described Perez as a caring father, and his wife said she never doubted him.

"I have nothing to lie about," Perez said amid sobs and moans during a 1994 jailhouse interview. "Who feels more pain about my dear baby's death: me or the police? I'm already suffering because she died, and now they accuse me of killing her."

But authorities said his statements about the death were inconsistent, and the prosecutor contended during trial that the baby's injuries suggested she suffocated outside the bucket.

Perez was set for trial on molestation charges in November 1995 when the Orange County Grand Jury returned with a murder indictment.

Jurors deliberated about a week but said they ultimately did not have enough evidence to convict Perez.

Despite the mistrial, the prosecutor said it was important to let a jury hear the case: "We had to give the baby a chance for justice."

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