HIV In the First Degree
Given the lurid particulars, it's not surprising that no one wants to talk about the charges filed against Ignacio A. Perea, Jr. The son of a successful Hialeah business owner, 31-year-old Perea stands accused of raping three young boys last fall. "To hear these kids' stories," reports one source at the State Attorney's Office who wished to remain anonymous, "is like listening to the description of a gay porno flick. The stuff is just disgusting."
But while police, prosecutors, and attorneys for the defendant and victims all refuse to comment on the matter, Perea's trial, slated for March 2, 1993, will almost surely draw widespread media attention. Because Perea, who is HIV-positive, faces three counts of first-degree attempted murder, in addition to multiple sexual-battery and kidnapping charges.
The case marks only the second time that a defendant accused of attempted murder for deliberately exposing another to the AIDS virus will go before a jury. Nationally, several HIV-positive defendants have been charged with attempted murder, but only one case has gone to trial. (Last week the defendant, an Oregon man named Alberto Gonzalez, was sentenced to nine years in prison after being convicted on two counts of attempted murder for knowingly exposing a seventeen-year-old girl to the virus.) Dade State Attorney Janet Reno, who met with the prosecutors handling the case before filing charges, says she doesn't regard this case as precedent-setting, but concedes that "it could be viewed in that light."
The case is also distinguished by the heinous nature of Perea's alleged crimes. According to Metro-Dade police records, Perea and a second perpetrator literally yanked an eleven-year-old boy off his bicycle on September 21, 1991. The men then blindfolded the victim and drove him to a warehouse, where he was forced to submit to at least nine acts of oral and anal sex.
Three weeks later the same pair allegedly snatched a second boy, also eleven, from the parking lot of W.R. Thomas Elementary School in West Dade. He was driven to a house and forced to engage in multiple sex acts. A third attack, this one on a thirteen-year-old, followed a week later. All three boys were examined at the Rape Treatment Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where doctors found physical evidence consistent with their accounts of the sexual battery.
Police sent more than 50 officers to search industrial-area warehouses and survey adult book and video stores. On November 20, 1991, Perea, who has no previous criminal record, was arrested at Sunshine Bird Supply, a Northwest Dade warehouse owned by his father. All three victims identified him in a photo lineup. He was denied bond and remains in Dade County Jail, awaiting trial. (The second perpetrator, who has been tentatively identified as Perea's lover, has not been apprehended, explains the source at the State Attorney's Office. Prosecutors believe he has left the country.)
In December the State Attorney's Office filed charges against Perea that included mutiple counts of sexual battery and kidnapping. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment.
A month later the state filed a motion to compel Perea to produce his medical records and to submit blood and saliva samples. Allen Fuller, a civil attorney for one of the victims, filed a motion requesting that the defendant submit to an HIV test. All three motions were granted by Judge Thomas Wilson at a hearing on January 30.
According to court documents, Perea's test results came back positive.
In May, after talking with prosecutors in other cities and consulting AIDS researchers, Assistant State Attorney Susan Dechovitz amended the state's charges to include three counts of attempted murder. "Before you do something this novel, you better research it thoroughly to make sure it holds water scientifically," explains the unnamed source. "That's what we did. There have been other cases where you have the same basic situation, but [Perea's] was so clearly better than the others, factually and legally, that we felt we had to file the additional charges."
The source also acknowledges that winning convictions on the attempted-murder charges will require prosecutors to prove that Perea knew he was HIV-positive, and that he possessed the intent to kill the boys even before he allegedly raped them. "Trust me, we can do it," says the source, who refused to discuss the nature of the state's evidence. "We wouldn't have filed those [attempted murder] charges if we weren't sure."
In the Oregon case, prosecutors convinced jurors of Gonzalez's intent by presenting two jailhouse informants. Both testified that Gonzalez had told them he didn't care if the women he had sex with contracted AIDS, and confided to them that he was bitter because he believed he got the virus from a woman. Prosecutors, using testimony from an old girlfriend and staffers from a plasma center that rejected his blood, proved that Gonzalez knew he had AIDS at the time he had sex with his victim. Defense attorneys unsuccessfully argued that Gonzalez's conduct was reckless, not deliberately murderous.
Already, several of the police officers involved in Perea's arrest have given sworn statements. The three minor victims have yet to be formally interviewed. The only statement made by Perea, according to court records, was a double entendre uttered during his arrest: "What have I done?"
Jay Levine, Perea's defense attorney, refuses to discuss the case. "I can't comment on a pending case and I don't think it does any good for my client to talk. If I have anything to say, I'll tell it to the jury," Levine says, adding that he anticipates the case will go to trial.
If so, his client will inevitably face intense media scrutiny, as will the prosecutors who intend to prove that Perea's HIV status was not just a medical condition, but a murder weapon.
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