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Suspect in '99 slaying returned to Southland

March 30, 2007|Stuart Silverstein | Times Staff Writer

Daniel Perez, a one-time fugitive convicted in absentia for the attempted murder of his estranged wife and accused in the slaying of her father, was extradited Thursday from Mexico to Southern California.

Perez, 35, was returned to U.S. authorities after losing a yearlong legal battle to block his extradition. After years of living on the lam, he was caught by Mexican federal agents in January 2006 in Mazatlan, where Perez reportedly was selling time-share condominiums.

Local and federal officials will provide details of the case at a downtown Los Angeles news conference this morning. They will be joined by Perez's estranged wife, Anabella Vara, who survived being shot in the back of the head.

Perez kidnapped Vara in April 1999 from a South Gate restaurant, shot her when she tried to escape and left her for dead.

According to authorities, Perez struck again 4 1/2 months later while out on bail. He is accused of killing Vara's father, Carlos Vara, by pumping seven shots into him after breaking into his Fontana home.

Perez faces trial in San Bernardino County in that slaying, which occurred the day after the elder Vara testified against him in the attempted murder of Anabella Vara. Perez was being held Thursday night at the West Valley Detention Center in San Bernardino County.

In the attempted murder case, Perez was found guilty in absentia and sentenced to the equivalent of two life terms in prison.

Local and federal officials are trumpeting Perez's extradition as another in a recent string of successes stemming from increased cooperation with Mexican authorities. The work intensified after November 2005, when the Mexican Supreme Court cleared the way for the extradition of fugitives facing life sentences in other countries.

Mexico, however, continues to bar the extradition of fugitives facing the death penalty, so seeking capital punishment against Perez apparently will not be an option for San Bernardino County prosecutors.

John Clark, who heads the Los Angeles-based fugitive task force for the U.S. Marshals Service, called Perez -- a Mexican national -- one of the most notorious suspects wanted for murder in this country who fled to Mexico.

The extradition, Clark said, "continues to send a message that going to Mexico and trying to hide out is not an option, regardless of whether or not you are wanted for murder. Mexican officials do work with us very closely and they are willing to extradite their own nationals as long as they're not facing capital punishment."

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley had named Perez as among the handful of fugitives at the top of his list for extradition after the Mexican high court changed its policy regarding suspects facing life sentences.

"It's a wonderful thing for the Vara family to be able to get back the person accused of killing Mr. Vara and convicted of trying to murder his estranged wife," said Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for Cooley. "It's a good day."

Jorge Arroyo Garcia, another former fugitive who had been at the top of Cooley's extradition list for killing a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy during a traffic stop in 2002, was sentenced earlier this month to life without the possibility of parole. Garcia was arrested by Mexican authorities at his uncle's ranch outside Guadalajara a year ago and handed over to the U.S. Marshals Service in January.

Still awaiting extradition from Mexico is Alvaro Jara, a suspected gang member accused of killing 12-year-old Steven Morales in 1998 as the youth played baseball with friends on a Highland Park cul-de-sac.

Jara's intended targets, according to the district attorney's office, apparently were members of a rival street gang who were near where the children were playing.

According to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, Perez is the 31st fugitive that Mexican authorities have extradited to the United States this year.

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stuart.silverstein@latimes.com

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