To hear Montgomery County prosecutors tell it, Luisa Paiz wanted her son’s father dead, and she was willing to pay to make it happen.
Last year, they say, Paiz paid $5,000 to a man she met while the two were serving in the Army in Afghanistan to kill Santiago Perez, her high school sweetheart and the father of her son.
In opening statements Tuesday, prosecutors said the testimony of Khiry Blue, Paiz’s co-defendant in the June 2012 assault, would prove their case. According to prosecutors, Blue traveled from Texas, waited for Perez outside his Gaithersburg home and forced him into a wooded area behind his house, where he tried to choke him to death in the predawn hours of June 25, 2012.
Blue, 22, pleaded guilty in August to attempted first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, first-degree assault and conspiracy to commit assault. He is scheduled to be sentenced in November.
“The version he tells is the only one that fits,” Assistant State’s Attorney Mark Anderson told jurors Tuesday.
Paiz, 33, is on trial this week for attempted murder, solicitation of murder and conspiracy to commit murder, along with related crimes.
Paul Kemp, one of the lawyers representing Paiz, said the case had been over-charged and that she was innocent of the attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder charges.
Paiz, Kemp said, had confided to Blue about domestic issues she was having with Perez — from whom she separated more than 10 years ago — regarding their son. Kemp said that Blue told her he could help, but that Paiz had never intended for him to try to commit murder.
“This, ladies and gents, is a second-degree assault case — and she’s guilty of that,” Kemp told a Montgomery County Circuit Court jury Tuesday, arguing that the prosecution’s case hinged on the testimony of Blue, whom he called a “manipulator and admitted liar.”
Perez, Kemp said, suffered no broken bones, had no finger marks on his neck and had only minor cuts which did not need stitches. They were the wounds of a fight, he said, not an attempted murder, adding that Blue hadn’t taken any weapons with him — even the tire iron in the car he was driving — when he confronted Perez. Blue also told investigators that he never intended to kill his victim, Kemp said.
According to Paiz’s charging documents, Perez told police that a man — whom police later identified as Blue through DNA, phone records and other evidence — accosted him in the early morning as he left his home on Stedwick Drive to go to work.
According to Perez’s testimony in court, he and Paiz had met in high school in the 1990s and dated for five years, living together at one point and having a child. They broke up, he said, because their work schedules didn’t match. From there, the relationship between the two became more acrimonious, he said, after a custody arrangement between them changed.
Paiz called him and told him, he said, “I would be sorry for everything I had done, and I would pay for everything I had done.” In the call, Paiz also threatened several of his relatives, he said.
Paiz initially had custody of their son, he said. Later, after Paiz joined the Army and began serving in Texas and Afghanistan, he took care of the boy.
In court Tuesday, Perez described the ordeal he went through that June morning.
He woke up after receiving a blocked phone call at about 4 a.m. An electrician, he worked early hours, so he got up, brushed his teeth and made his lunch, took out the trash, grabbed some coffee and headed out the door.
As he was walking to his car, he turned around and saw a man, masked and gloved, and wearing a black V-neck T-shirt standing just a few feet away. And he had something in his right hand; Perez thought it was a gun.
“I was scared. I didn’t know what was going on,” he said.
The attacker forced him to put down his belongings, then forced him into a wooded area near his house.
Eventually, the man told him, “Right here’s good,” and ordered him to put his hands behind his back.
That’s when the man assaulted him, he said. The man put a rag over his mouth and also tried to choke him, he said. Perez fought back.
“He was really strong, really fast,” he said in court, remembering the man trying to stifle his screams with the rag and the man’s hands on his neck.
“I thought he was going to snap my neck. ... I was fighting for my life. I felt horrible. I was really scared,” he said.
He started screaming for help when he realized he couldn’t fight anymore, he said.
In that moment, he said, “I thought I was going to die.”
According to charging documents for Paiz, the screams alerted a neighbor, who turned on a light and called 911.
Police found Perez, bloodied with bite marks and cuts, and recovered gloves and other evidence in a wooded area behind his house. Rescue personnel treated him at the scene, but he declined to go to the hospital. Hours later, after the convincing of his wife, he checked himself into a local hospital emergency room, he said.
The police investigation led detectives to Fort Hood, Texas, where both Blue and Paiz were stationed. Blue is scheduled to testify this week.
If convicted, Paiz could spend the rest of her life in prison.