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Commune Leader Sentenced To Life For Drowning Follower For Insurance Money

Prosecutors said Daniel Perez profited from insurance payouts after a number deaths of commune members. In 2003, he drowned Patricia Hughes and tried to make her death look accidental.

Last updated on March 24, 2015, at 5:53 p.m. ET

Posted on February 18, 2015, at 5:14 p.m. ET

Mike Hutmacher/Wichita Eagle / MCT

A Sedgwick County Sheriff's deputy directs Daniel U. Perez to his seat in District Court in 2012 in Wichita, Kansas.

Daniel Perez claimed to be a centuries-old psychic and in 2003, foretold the death of 26-year-old Patricia Hughes to others at his 20-acre commune outside Wichita, Kansas.

About a week later, she drowned in a pool in what police initially believed was an attempt to pull her young daughter from the water. Perez, the Angel's Landing commune leader, pocketed more than $1 million in life insurance benefits, the Wichita Eagle reported.

On Wednesday, Perez was found guilty of murder, as well as dozens of other crimes, including rape and sexual abuse of children in the commune.

The 55-year-old was first charged with Hughes' death in 2012, after one of the girls he abused came forward to authorities, the Associated Press reported. Now a 22-year-old woman, she described in court how Perez claimed Hughes had to die and insisted she would come back to life, the Wichita Eagle reported.

Perez took Hughes out to the pool while the girl stayed indoors with Hughes' daughter. She said she heard a small scream, and Perez left. Under his instructions, she waited 20 minutes, then called 911 and told them a story he had prepared her to tell.

While Perez was only charged with one murder, prosecutors pointed to a number of other deaths of commune members that came with high insurance payouts. Defense attorneys disputed the financial motivation behind Perez's actions and also questioned whether he held as much power over commune members as authorities claimed.

Perez was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison, the Associated Press reported.

He will serve consecutive life sentences for murder and sexual exploitation of a child, as well as 34 years for 26 other crimes, including rape, the AP reported. Altogether, the 55-year-old will not be eligible for parole until he's 120.

"The evidence conclusively shows that Mr. Perez used people as mere objects to fulfill his desire for money, sex and a lavish lifestyle," Sedgwick County District Judge Joseph Bribiesca said. "It is just that he serve the maximum sentence."

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