The key questions in a Montgomery County courtroom last week were: How badly did Luisa Paiz want to hurt the father of her 14-year-old son? Was she guilty of attempted murder?
On Monday, a jury convicted Paiz of first-degree assault and conspiracy to commit assault, but acquitted her of attempted first-degree murder, solicitation to commit murder, and conspiracy to commit murder. Paiz is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 18. She faces a maximum sentence of 45 years in prison.
Paiz had been charged with paying Khiry Blue $5,000 to kill Santiago Perez, the father of her 14-year-old son, with whom she had been long separated.
Paiz served in the Army with Blue in Texas and Afghanistan, and the two talked and became friends while working as aviation operations specialists, according to prosecutors.
When Blue was on leave, prosecutors said, he had driven from North Carolina, laid in wait in front of Perez’s Montgomery Village house, and then tried to strangle him to death.
But Paul Kemp and Tom DeGonia, who represented Paiz, argued in trial that Paiz had been “overcharged,” and that although she had paid Blue to assault her son’s father, she had never intended for Blue to do more than beat the man up.
In the one of the first days of Paiz’s trial, Paul Kemp said in court that she was not guilty of anything more than a second-degree assault charge.
“We’re satisfied with the verdict,” DeGonia said, in an interview. He said he thought Paiz was acquitted on the murder charges because the jury was skeptical of Blue’s testimony.
“I think the jury saw through Blue’s testimony for what it was, an effort to better his own position,” DeGonia said. DeGonia and Kemp repeatedly attacked Blue’s testimony, pointing out inconsistencies between the different stories he had told authorities before the trial, and used it to question his credibility as a witness in Paiz’s trial. They also played calls Blue had made while in jail in which he said he was not intending to kill Perez.
Blue pleaded guilty in front of Montgomery County Circuit Judge Richard Jordan in August to attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder and assault charges in exchange for a “guideline” sentence, meaning he would be more likely to receive a sentence of between five to 10 years.
Ramon Korionoff, spokesman for the States Attorney’s Office, disputed the notion that the case had been overcharged.
“This case was tried because we believe there was a plan hatched to get rid of [Perez]. ... The jury just came up with a verdict which was in line with what they thought this particular defendant was responsible for,” he said.
Korionoff said Paiz had been “held accountable” by the verdict.
Prosecutors argued in court that Paiz, 33, paid Blue to travel to Maryland while on leave and attack Perez.
The assault took place in the pre-dawn hours of June 25, 2012. In court, Blue testified that he had used the money that Paiz gave him to first visit friends in California, then flew to North Carolina. From there, he drove to Maryland and confronted Perez outside his home on Stedwick Avenue as Perez was leaving for work.
Blue testified that he forced Perez to a wooded area behind the man’s house, then tried to strangle and choke him.
He didn’t take any weapons, he said. Instead, he said, “I planned on strangling him.”
He threw some of the clothes he wore that day away because, he said, “I didn’t want to wear the same clothes I tried to kill someone in.”
But, despite that testimony, Blue also testified that he lied repeatedly about his actions to authorities and perjured himself when he pleaded guilty before Judge Jordan.
In explaining the lies, he said that he first had admitted only being paid to “rough him up.”
“It was better than saying I was going to kill [him],” Blue said.
“We got down to the truth after a couple of tries,” he said, prompting Paiz’s defense team to call for a mistrial, a motion Judge Cheryl McCally denied.
When Paul Kemp asked Blue why he was telling the truth — after admitting to telling different stories to investigators — Blue said, “Well, I prayed about it.”
Police traced the crime back to Blue from a call that he had made to Perez the morning of the attack; Blue said in court he had wanted to make sure he had the right address.
They also tied him to the gloves he used when he attacked Perez. Blue said they came off in the struggle, but had no memory of losing them.
Police said in court that they linked Blue to Paiz through phone records between the two.
Blue is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 15.