The image some people in the El Centro community have of homicide defendant Juan Ramon Perez isn’t real, Perez’s defense attorney, Steve Honse, said Friday.
In fact 20-year-old Perez is a young family man who Honse said Friday has no criminal history, no gang affiliation and is a member of the California Army National Guard.
Perez and alleged accessory Gerardo Alba, 20, both face charges of first-degree murder in connection with the May 15 killing of 17-year-old Jennifer Fierro. Both El Centro men have pleaded not guilty to the crime.
El Centro police Friday arrested a teen identified by Imperial County Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Brooker as Matthew Garcia on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and being an accessory to murder after the fact.
Honse said the boy is 17, but Brooker said he believes he is either 15 or 16.
Jennifer was fatally struck by the Hyundai Elantra police said Perez drove the night there was an apparent confrontation between Jennifer and another girl during a 1-year-old’s birthday party at a friend’s home on Hamilton Avenue.
Honse stressed that much of the witness statements are inconsistent and maintains that his client is being “railroaded” for a crime that does not rise to the level of murder.
Chris Kowalski, the defense attorney representing Alba, said his client, like Perez, has no prior criminal history and has “been grossly over-charged.”
While noting that Jennifer’s death is a tragedy, Kowalski said that it was not the result of murder. A different story will emerge from government sources and others once the case goes to trial, he said.
Kowalski also said that what has been written about them in the press has been extremely prejudicial to his client.
“I think there has been a major reaction to blame these guys for something that didn’t happen,” Kowalski said.
Based on what he read in the police report Honse said that the teen-age girl involved in the alleged confrontation with Jennifer called Perez and asked him to pick her up because she felt threatened.
When Perez arrived from Mexicali in his grandfather’s Elantra with Alba and Garcia inside they saw in the distance a large crowd of people who started to turn toward them once Perez, Alba and Garcia exited the car, Honse said.
Perez and Garcia returned to the car and were starting to leave the scene when Perez was alerted by Garcia to go back for Alba, and he put the Elantra in reverse, Honse said.
The car’s rear bumper struck Jennifer, Honse said.
Honse said Perez drove to his grandfather’s house and later turned himself in to El Centro police.
Right now much of the case hinges on whatever evidence can be recovered from the Elantra, which is at Riverside to be reviewed by state Department of Justice officials, Honse said. An autopsy report on Jennifer will be relied upon, he said.
As for a number of rumors about injuries Perez and Alba suffered while in custody at the county jail, Honse said he believes that the rumors are being orchestrated by someone.
But the rumors were apparently alarming enough to have Perez’s 5-year-old son removed from school by concerned family members as a precautionary measure, Honse said.
Imperial County sheriff’s Lt. David Tirado said there is nothing to back up the rumors as the defendants are doing well. However, Tirado said Alba and Perez were involved in a fight two days after Jennifer’s death with a pair of jail inmates.
But there is nothing about the May 17 scuffle to indicate that it was retaliatory in nature or was linked in any way to the homicide case, Tirado said.
Staff Writer Silvio J. Panta can be reached at 760-337-3442 or at firstname.lastname@example.org