Man gets life sentence in Bethesda home invasion murder
Hyattsville man, 34, convicted of first-degree murder, 13 other criminal charges
Mary Frances Havenstein's home on Seven Locks Road in Bethesda, once open to all her family and friends, is now closed and locked with a deadbolt. The fate of her murderer, Jose Garcia-Perlera, has been sealed in similar fashion.
Garcia-Perlera, 34, of Hyattsville, was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole by Judge Michael D. Mason in Montgomery County Circuit Court in Rockville Thursday morning for Havenstein's murder.
"If this verdict was ever made for anyone, it was for Mr. Garcia-Perlera," said Peggy Wiley, Havenstein's niece and a Derwood resident.
An illegal immigrant from El Salvador, Garcia-Perlera will serve out his sentence in the United States.
Garcia-Perlera was found guilty of Havenstein's murder along with 13 other felony criminal charges, including burglary and false imprisonment, brought by Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy in a jury trial that concluded with Garcia-Perlera's conviction May 15.
Prosecutors had been seeking the life sentence for Garcia-Perlera, who was convicted of breaking into the homes of four elderly women between November 2007 and September 2008. His first three victims, Margaret Arnold of Bethesda, Betty Tubbs of Chevy Chase and Ann Wolfe of Potomac, survived, but 63-year-old Mary Frances Havenstein was found dead in her home on Sept. 4.
All the women were gagged and hog-tied, and Havenstein died from a blow to the head. Items taken from the homes found in Garcia-Perlera's Hyattsville residence and DNA evidence taken from three of the homes helped convict him.
All four women had previously lost husbands, and they all lived alone.
In explaining his decision, Mason used the term "evil" to describe the crimes and the planning that preceded them.
"These were not impulsive acts," Mason said.
He also said Garcia-Perlera's violence in committing the home invasions seemed unnecessary and that he appeared to take satisfaction from hurting his victims, showing a "callous disregard for life."
Samuel Delgado, a Montgomery County public defender representing Garcia-Perlera, said his client maintained his innocence and asked the judge to give a relatively lenient sentence so Garcia-Perlera could "go on with his life."
But while some cases called for leniency, "This is not one of those cases," Mason said.
Garcia-Perlera declined the opportunity to speak at the sentencing. In addition to life imprisonment, he also received sentences for the remaining felony convictions, ranging from 15 years to life.
After the sentencing, Tubbs said she was "delighted" with the result.
"I'm just proud of the prosecutors, and the trial was excellently done," Wolfe said.
Celia Timmick, Havenstein's sister and Wiley's mother, said she was glad the "finale" to the legal ordeal had come at last.
"I didn't see how they could come up with any other decision," she said, referring to Mason's ruling.
Before Mason announced his sentence, Wolfe, Tubbs and several of Havenstein's family members described their feelings about the home invasions and urged Mason to do justice for them. Arnold and her family were not present in court.
"He robbed me. He robbed me of her very presence," Timmick told Mason, highlighting Havenstein's humor, close family ties and her care for the sick and disabled.
Timmick's daughter, Mary Phillips, displayed pictures of Havenstein dating back to the 1960s, all of them with her family. They ranged from black and white photos with a smiling Havenstein and her sister at the beach, to a crowded color family portrait next to her backyard pool.
"Mary Frances was always there, always there for us," Phillips said.
Havenstein was recovering from health problems at the time of her death. She had also organized a family reunion at the Kenwood Country Club for her older brother, who was also in poor health, just a few weeks before she was killed.
McCarthy and Mason both made a point of praising the fortitude and character of the four women victimized by Garca-Perlera. Mason said that although Garcia-Perlera stalked and picked out the women because they were independent and living alone, "they are not as nearly vulnerable as they may have seemed."
McCarthy, who nicknamed Tubbs "Steel Magnolia," said of the four victims, "These are the best among us."