Reasonable Doubt

Louis Perez has spent nearly two decades on death row. Does he deserve to be there?

Louis Perez on death row (Photo by Jana Birchum)

It was 3am on Thursday, Sept. 10, 1998, when Melvin Jones called the police. He hadn't heard from his girlfriend Cinda Barz all day. The last time they talked was on Wednesday, at 5pm, and that wasn't like her: The two spoke all the time. Jones had been trying to reach her house all night. Stranded without a car at his home in Northeast Austin, Jones asked police to run a welfare check on Barz's house in Barton Hills.

Three officers arrived at 2810 Rock Ter­race Dr. at 3:40am. They got no response at the front door, saw no lights or movement other than the blue flicker of a television left on in the living room. The front door was locked; so was the sliding door around back. In the driveway were two cars: Barz's and her roommate Michelle Fulwiler's.

Officer Scott Perry would later testify that he first saw Barz's body through a living room window. She was buried under a blanket and couch cushion. Staci Mitchell, Barz's daughter, could be seen through a bedroom window, her lifeless body slumped across a bed. Unable to open a door, the officers broke a window to get inside.

"We could see puddles or blotches of blood and smears," testified Perry. "There was an iron skillet, frying pan, with the center knocked out of it sitting on the floor." Investigators could tell that the skillet – a comal – had been used to bludgeon Barz. She suffered "multiple incised wounds and lacerations," as well as defensive wounds and a skull fracture, reported Elizabeth Peacock, a forensic pathologist with the Travis County Medical Examiner's Office.

Police found Fulwiler's body wrapped in a blanket on the south side of her bedroom. She, too, had cuts and defensive wounds, said Peacock, but she also had strangulation marks around her neck. Nine-year-old Staci Mitchell's hand had been tied to the bed by a pair of pantyhose; she had a second pair tied around her neck. The blue shirt she wore to school that day lay beside her on the bed.

Close to Barz's body, officers found a broken plant stand and a large knife with its handle wrapped in a torn white towel. There were bloodstains on the couch; more bloodstains on the bathroom tile and floor. Police found cocaine on a plate and an empty dime bag. They found a telephone cord that didn't belong to any of the house's phones draped over a chair. In the weeks that followed, APD would find a blue towel on the ground outside the house, and the sole of a Nike shoe.

Investigators learned later that Thursday morning that Fulwiler had called in sick to work on Wednesday at 8:15am and hadn't answered any calls from co-workers. Barz, who worked with Fulwiler at the Gardner-Betts Juvenile Justice Center, spent the day working, but left abruptly after 5pm when she didn't receive an expected phone call from her daughter. Mitchell walked home at 3:30pm, her teachers told investigators. Nobody heard from her after that.

A Likely Suspect

2810 Rock Terrace Dr., the scene of the three murders (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Louis Perez was the last person known to have left 2810 Rock Terrace alive. The 36-year-old had been dating Fulwiler casually, and authorities knew he had slept over at her house the night before.

Perez, a carpenter and occasional bouncer, was divorced, the father of three boys with his ex-wife and a daughter with an ex-girlfriend. Large, smiling, and affable, Perez liked to party – at Downtown bars and Carnaval – and would spend his off days drinking and smoking at Campbell's Hole in the Barton Creek Greenbelt. He had an affinity for social drugs – cocaine particularly. He would often serve as a middleman in casual deals for friends. Perez had a strong relationship with his young daughter but admits he wasn't there for his sons. He'd gone to jail twice for failing to pay child support.

Perez knew Fulwiler through his brother, but it wasn't until a court hearing at Gard­ner-Betts after one of Perez's periods of incarceration that the two began dating. They were off-and-on for months while Ful­wiler allowed another relationship to play out. On Sept. 8, Perez and Fulwiler got together, and on Sept. 10, she and her two roommates were dead. Perez was arrested on Friday, Sept. 11, at a South Austin 7-Eleven.

At Perez's trial the following year, prosecutors were unable to tie Perez to the DNA found on any of the murder weapons. There were no witnesses from the scene. Instead, the Travis County District Attorney's Office relied on circumstantial evidence – like the presence of Perez's fingerprints and DNA throughout the house, including one palm print next to Barz's body – to get a conviction. Perez was sentenced to death on Oct. 20, 1999.

Perez has maintained his innocence, saying that although he was the last person to leave the house before the murders and the first to walk back in after the attacks, he was not the killer. But his lone alibi witness – a California drug dealer named Alex Gutier­rez, with whom Perez says he spent the day – has never been located. Perez's defense attorneys were never able to verify Perez was with Gutierrez.

According to Perez's friend Minerva Hall, the first person to speak with him after the murders occurred, Perez showed up on the doorstep of her apartment at around 9:15pm that Wednesday night. He was barefoot, his hair "messed up." Hall saw scratches on his neck. Perez said that he got into a fight with his father, and Hall thought nothing of it. She offered him her bed, and went to sleep in another room with her son.

On Thursday, after resting at Hall's apartment, Perez caught a ride to Texas Discount Furniture on the Eastside, where he met his friend Tony Recio. He spent Thursday night at Recio's. During Perez's trial, Recio would say his friend wasn't acting at all unusual that evening. Recio said he noticed the scratches on Perez's neck and asked about them. Perez told him he had gotten into a fight with his ex-wife.

When Recio got to work that Friday, his boss showed him a newspaper story naming Perez as the murder suspect. Recio called his attorney, who made a call to APD. Two detectives showed up to the furniture store within the hour. Together, Recio and detectives went back to his apartment to look for Perez, who'd already taken off with a pair of Recio's boots.

Perez with daughter Jade prior to his incarceration (Photo courtesy of The Perez Family)

Perez said he had seen a news report that day identifying him as a suspect, and left Recio's house so as not to implicate him in the murders. He eventually ended up at a pay phone outside a 7-Eleven off Bluff Springs. He called his family and his attorney, who advised that he turn himself in. While he was on the phone, a squad of officers pulled up.

Police had been looking for Perez since the night after the murders. Lead investigator Brian Manley, APD's current chief of staff, who at the time was a few months in to a yearlong stint in homicide, received a page from a scene technician saying that a bloody palm print found next to Barz's body was Perez's. The technician said that Barz's blood must have been spilled within five minutes of Perez making the print.

When officers went to Perez's parents' house looking for him, they said they hadn't seen him; Perez was also a no-show for two different jobs. Manley caught a break on Friday morning when he received a call from Hall, who'd seen the news.

The presence of the palm print left no doubt that Perez had been in the house after the murders. What remains unclear, despite his death sentence, is whether he's guilty of anything more than that.

An Uncorroborated Alibi

Perez waited a year to give his account of how he came to be in the house, not confiding in anyone except for his defense attorneys before taking the stand at trial.

Perez testified at trial that he left Fulwiler's that morning to meet up with Gutierrez at a nearby 7-Eleven. (He had met the Californian a week and a half earlier in a restaurant bathroom.) Perez and Gutierrez drove around Austin selling coke to various friends and acquaintances before getting lunch at a drive-through. The two then went to Zilker Park, where they whiled the day away drinking beer, snorting coke, and watching people play volleyball. They left around 5pm, and Gutierrez gave Perez a ride back to the 7-Eleven. He walked through Barton Hills to Fulwiler's. Over­heat­ed, he unbuttoned his shirt and took off his shoes so that he could take a shower when he got inside.

Perez rang the doorbell a few times, walking in after getting no response. The door was unlocked.

"As soon as I get – to get my shirt off right here, I walk around the corner and I see Cinda on the ground," he testified. He saw the comal on her face and "[threw] it out of the way." Barz – who was still alive but badly beaten – reached for him, grabbing his neck and scratching it.

A pencil portrait by Perez of his father Ernest (Photo courtesy of The Perez Family)

Perez was spooked. He grabbed his shirt and got out of the house. He didn't call the police. He just split, not even bothering to take his boots. He sat on a rock wall down the street and tried to comprehend what happened. He stopped in to an Italian bistro for water, then wandered through Barton Hills. He eventually ended up at Hall's apartment complex, sitting outside a while before knocking on her door.

Inconclusive Evidence

Prior to Perez's testimony, Assistant D.A. Claire Dawson-Brown, trying her first – and last – capital case, had presented eight days of evidence tying Perez to the crime scene. She exhibited photographs of Perez's fingerprints lifted from beer bottles and door handles in the house. She reminded the jury that Perez left the scene without calling for help. She questioned the disappearance of Perez's Nike boots, and got both Perez's father and ex-wife to testify that Perez had lied about the provenance of his scratches.

Dawson-Brown presented Perez and Fulwiler's cocaine use as a motive, suggesting that Perez killed Fulwiler – then waited around the house all day to kill Mitchell and Barz – because she had snorted all of his dime bags. She said Perez went on the killing spree because he thought Steve Jackson – a local pusher who testified at trial to being Perez's "best friend" – expected Perez to sell the bags and give him a cut of the profits.

Integral to Dawson-Brown's case was an emphasis on circumstantial DNA analysis. Perez's DNA was on the piece of the comal that had covered Barz's face, and both parts of the ripped towel. Dawson-Brown's argument also benefited from cherry-picked probability statistics. DNA analysis concluded there was a one in 14 chance that the foreign DNA found under Staci Mitchell's fingernails came from a Hispanic person – not specifically Perez. (The odds measured at one in 11 blacks and one in 20 whites.) DNA stripped from Barz's nail clippings showed that one in 38,600 Hispanics would make a match. (With her, one in 181,000 whites and one in 321,000 blacks.)

It was an advantageous association, but – like much of the prosecution's argument – it relied on inconclusive evidence. A thorough read through the court record reveals a long list of investigative oversights.

Three hairs found on Mitchell's body weren't tested before the trial. Neither was the handle of the comal used on Barz, or the two ends of the phone cord used to strangle Fulwiler. Same goes for the pantyhose; investigators only tested the two pairs in the areas known to have come into contact with Mitchell. A DNA specialist testified that she chose not to amplify test results from an inconclusive DNA scan for blood found on the knife.

Robert Bux, a deputy medical examiner in Bexar County who testified for the defense, alleged that the Travis County Medical Examiner took too long removing the bodies from the home. Dave Harding, an investigator with the TCMEO, said he performed a liver punch on the left side of the bodies so as to avoid altering the crime scene (failing to consider that liver punches should land on a body's right, where the liver is actually located). Smoked cigarettes found outside the house were not immediately collected, tested, and analyzed. Officers handled a house key from the mailbox without protective gloves. Blood found in the bathroom wasn't tested. A fingerprint examiner for APD found 43 instances in which fingerprints lifted from the scene "represent[ed] a person other than the victim of the crime, the police officers, all other persons given to you as suspects in this case – or Mr. Perez" – yet nobody else was investigated as a suspect after police arrested Perez.

No blood from any of the three women was ever found on Perez's clothes. No physical evidence connected Perez to Fulwiler's murder. In fact, aside from the palm print and DNA left on the comal, there was little that suggested Perez touched any of the suspected weapons. The Department of Public Safety's crime lab "didn't even know until this summer [1999], June, with his trial beginning Aug. 23, that they had foreign alleles in the towels," argued Joe James Sawyer, one of the attorneys who represented Perez at his trial. (Alleles are variant forms of genes that show up in DNA.) "Since September of last year they hadn't so much as bothered to run DNA to see what was there.

Louis Perez as a young boy (Photo courtesy of The Perez Family)

"They didn't care. ... They had that skid mark, they had that palm print, and that was enough."

The Serial Killer

On Oct. 4, 1998, one month after the murders, 81-year-old Leafie Mason was bludgeoned to death with an antique flat iron at her home in Hughes Springs, Texas. Her house sat 50 yards from the Kansas City Southern Railway tracks. On Dec. 17, 39-year-old Claudia Benton was raped, stabbed, and beaten to death with a statue at her house in West University Place, a Houston neighborhood with the St. Louis Southwestern Railway as its western border.

Similar murders continued through 1999 – killings near railroad tracks involving household objects as weapons. On May 2, Norman Sirnic and his wife Karen were found dead at Weimar's United Church, where Norman was a pastor. The church was located adjacent to Union Pacific tracks. Two more bodies – Josephine Konvicka, in Fayette County, and Noemi Dominguez, in Houston – were discovered near railroad lines on June 4. Both women had been beaten to death with a pickaxe.

Each of those killings, most of them never tried, is now believed to have been committed by Ángel Maturino Reséndiz, a Mexican national who was convicted for Benton's murder in 2000 and executed in 2006. Reséndiz is also thought to be responsible for a number of other killings in Florida, Kentucky, Illinois, and Mexico.

Perez's defense knew that the Missouri-Pacific Railroad ran through South Austin within a mile of Rock Terrace, and suggested during the trial that Reséndiz was the real killer, although it wasn't a theory they attempted to flesh out. In 2002, Resén­diz confessed to the murders, telling a private investigator hired by Alex Calhoun, Perez's attorney at that time, that he killed two women in Austin: "one fat one and one skinny one." However, Reséndiz never confessed to murdering a child, and his mental state made it impossible for Calhoun to secure an affidavit. While on death row, Reséndiz confessed to several murders that he could not have committed, which further calls into question the veracity of his claims concerning Barz and Fulwiler.

Revisiting the DNA

Still, suspicions that Perez was innocent grew in Oct. 2001, when Calhoun solicited post-conviction DNA testing to be conducted by Dr. Robert Benjamin, a professor of biological sciences at the University of North Texas. The professor wrote that Perez's trial counsel and their DNA expert "did not receive a complete list of electropherograms for all of the DNA analyses performed on the evidence." (Electrophero­grams are DNA test results.)

"Many samples were analyzed multiple times and only select examples of the results were provided," Dr. Benjamin wrote. "This is of particular concern because of the nature of the samples and results obtained with several pieces of evidence central to the prosecution's case. Results obtained indicated that the samples represented mixtures of DNA from multiple individuals with very weak and incomplete profiles of minor contributors (some never identified). If other analyses of these samples failed to show some or all of these alleles it could be considered highly significant since it could, for example, raise a question of contamination as an explanation for the inconsistency."

Benjamin also questioned certain conclusions concerning the DNA matches. He said the state chose to look at the fingernail samples as a mixture of two unknown people, when in reality the mixture would always include one known quantity: each victim. "Since the victim's profile will always be present, using their alleles in a probability calculation artificially increases the calculated probability of exclusion/inclusion," he wrote. "In this case, the evidence samples from AU1 left and right were calculated to have ranges from about one in three to one in millions. This was presented to the jury and no effort was made to explain the particular significance/appropriateness of either with respect to the other."

Perez in the late Seventies (Photo courtesy of The Perez Family)

In 2006, during state habeas proceedings, the Travis County D.A.'s Office agreed to have DPS compare a portion of the unidentified DNA found at the scene with Reséndiz's profile in CODIS, a DNA database of convicted felons that opened in 1996. In April 2006, DPS received pieces of the skillet, the blue towel found outside the house, the telephone cord, two pairs of pantyhose, cigarette butts found outside the house, a piece of the stained carpet from the master bedroom, one beer can, and the hairs from Mitchell's back. None of the results were a match for Reséndiz. Addi­tion­ally, many of the results did not conclusively exclude Perez as a contributor.

Certain pieces of evidence could not be analyzed, however. Lab documents show that the blue towel had a "complexity" that disallowed interpretations for a DNA profile. The hairs could not be read. But according to Jani Maselli, the Houston habeas attorney who represented Perez before U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin on Aug. 19, 2010, "numerous" DNA samples tested during the state process matched neither Perez nor Reséndiz. Perez was excluded from one item in particular: the comal's handle. At the time the report was written, the major contributor for that piece of evidence was logged as "an unknown male individual." Maselli learned at the Aug. 2010 hearing that the handle had been contaminated by Leon Justice, the court reporter at Perez's trial. His handling of the comal made it such that the mixture showed two people: Justice and what looked to DPS forensic expert Emma Becker, at the time, to be Cinda Barz. (Testing did show that Perez's DNA was consistent with the DNA found on the piece of the comal he testified to having touched when he lifted it off of Barz's face.) Becker also said that the piece of the towel that was wrapped around the knife showed a DNA mixture of three people: Fulwiler, Perez, "and then there were additional alleles that can essentially be attributed to someone else.

"Based on this profile, this is something we wouldn't do the additional testing on, just because when we have more than two people on the mixture, the technology, it gets overloaded and it's – the results aren't accurate," Becker testified. "So we have a rule where if it's more than two people, we do not perform the additional testing on it."

Another Suspect?

On Aug. 28, 2012, Perez's sister Delia Perez Meyer submitted a declaration to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, stating that earlier that year she received a call from a woman who would only identify herself as having worked for DPS. According to Meyer's statement, the woman told Meyer she knew who the real murderer was, and gave her a name (that name has been redacted from court records). Meyer said the woman had "called her repeatedly over the course of this case, asking her about Louis' case and the Railroad Killer." The woman told her the killer had been arrested for molesting a child and assault, and that his information could be found in the CODIS database.

Meyer wrote that after she got the call, she contacted Perez's new counsel, Sadaf Khan, who had replaced Maselli. Khan told her that they should hire a private investigator, which would cost Perez's family $10,000. Meyer found a source for the money, but by then the family had lost touch with her brother's attorney. Nobody – including Perez – would hear from Khan again.

Perez didn't know that he was being abandoned by his attorney until it nearly was too late. His petition for relief had fallen short in federal court on March 27, 2012. He had 180 days to appeal the decision to the 5th Circuit – had he known a decision had been made. However, shortly after U.S. Federal Judge Lee Yeakel issued his final judgment, Perez received word in his cell that his attorney had come to see him.

The attorney there to see him was not his, but rather Richard Burr, a Houston lawyer whose focus is death penalty cases. Burr told Perez that Khan had fallen absent and said he could receive an execution date at any point. He asked Perez how long it had been since he'd seen or heard from Khan. Perez said it had been two years. Burr said a conflict of interest (he served as a fact witness on the court's questioning of Khan's abandonment) prevented him from picking up as Perez's attorney, but that he might be able to find an attorney who could.

On Death Row

Early this April, Perez recounts this conversation in the same visitation room in which it happened, at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas, where he lives with 262 other inmates on death row. (Polunsky also houses 2,600 other prisoners.) He sits on a stool inside a steel-bound cell, his brown skin and graying hair a stark contrast to the white scrubs and walls found all around him. He wears black plastic-framed glasses with red tape around one screw. He smiles and laughs often, revealing a gap where the upper-right side of his teeth are missing. When he sits upright, he takes up much of the small cage.

Perez with a friend, date unknown (Photo courtesy of The Perez Family)

"I think about [the case] every day," he says through a telephone on the other side of a Plexiglas pane. "It's something that will never leave me ever again. My failure to render aid is my crime, not a murder – not a triple homicide. That's what's difficult for me. I believe in God, very much. I pray every day. And I beg Cinda to forgive me every day for leaving her to die like that."

He spends his days reading, researching his case, and painting. He's 54, now having been housed at Polunsky for 16-and-a-half years. He's well-accustomed to life inside the unit. "You have to figure things out," he says. "You hear stories, and a lot of them are true. Don't get me wrong: This place is bad. But when you carry yourself in a respectful manner, and you keep your word – that's all you have back here: your balls and your word. Once you lose either of those, it's like free game. People come at you. But my size and my attitude have saved me from trouble a lot, because I don't pick fights. I'm not a bully. I'm not nothing like that. People see that and respect that."

Perez keeps up on his case and uses the library at Polunsky to maintain an understanding of any developments that could affect his fate. "People ask me if I still believe in the justice system," he says. "I have to, because it's the only thing that's going to save my life. Nothing else is going to help me but the justice system."

Revisiting the DNA, Once More

The latest attorney to take on Perez's case is Marcy Greer. The Austin civil appellate attorney received a request from the District Court in the summer of 2012, asking that she look into allegations that Khan had abandoned Perez. She took over in early August and by Aug. 29 had filed a motion urging Yeakel to vacate his March judgment and issue a new ruling – one that could be appealed by an attorney who hadn't abandoned their client. Yeakel complied, and on Dec. 12 issued a new judgment, which Greer and her team contested within the month.

The filings opened the case again, and gave Greer and her team time to sort through the seven boxes of case files that have accumulated since the murders. She's fought off perilous deadlines. In Nov. 2012, Hon. Karen Sage, the presiding judge over the 299th District Court (where Perez was tried and convicted) hadn't yet learned of Greer's Aug. 2012 motion to reopen the case, and signed a death warrant for his execution, effective March 21, 2013. (The order was quickly withdrawn.) The case has since failed at both the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. Supreme Court.

Shortly after appealing Yeakel's ruling and delaying the impending death date, Greer filed four unopposed motions in Sage's district court that would change the course of Perez's effort. The motions, filed July 19, 2013, called for the Travis County District Attorney's Office to provide Perez with a series of previously unreleased documents from his case, including the transcripts from his grand jury trial and any bench notes, data, or electropherograms taken or previously held by the District Attorney.

The filings also included a motion requesting that the Tarrant County Medical Examiner run additional post-conviction DNA testing on six items – the two pairs of pantyhose used to strangle and bind Mitchell, fingernail scrapings from both of Mitchell's hands, the comal's handle, and the full length of the telephone cord – and that the Tarrant County crime lab test three other items that have yet to be analyzed by any lab – Mitchell's shirt, the Nike shoe sole, and a broken, bloody plant stand, which investigators concluded shattered during Barz's struggle before her death. (Since 2001, the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure has granted defendants the right to submit motions for additional DNA testing to their convicting courts so long as any revelation of DNA evidence could cast doubt on a convict's guilt. It also grants defendants the right to obtain grand jury transcripts from their case if it's believed the prosecution committed a Brady violation – that is, hid evidence favorable to the defense.)

"Several of these items of physical evidence were analyzed multiple times, but only the final report and selected excerpts of the underlying testing data were available to the defense team for analysis," wrote Greer, citing Dr. Benjamin's letter from Oct. 2001. "Having access to all of the underlying data – not just the reports prepared for the trial and the habeas hearing – will allow a thorough and complete review of the evidence that was used to convict Perez and may also potentially inform the results of the new testing that Perez is seeking in order to draw out a profile of the real killer from the various incomplete and mixed DNA contributions on these items."

Perez in 2001, two years after his conviction (Photo courtesy of The Perez Family)

Greer listed the significant number of fingerprints lifted "from highly sensitive locations" around the house, including the "blood-covered bathrooms and bedrooms where two of the bodies were found" that were never matched to Perez or any of the victims. She noted "other leads that may have identified the real killer in this case, including information about witness interviews and background investigations," as well as information about any attempts the prosecution made to verify Perez's whereabouts during the murders.

Buddy Meyer, who assisted Dawson-Brown at trial, denies Greer's accusations that "Perez became the focal point of the case early and to the exclusion of evidence suggesting his innocence or another possible perpetrator." However, he told the Chron­icle that the D.A.'s Office has no reason to oppose new testing. "You're talking about a death penalty case here," he said. "Why would we not agree to post-conviction testing? We're talking about a man's life."

"This Is Still Texas"

In March of this year, Greer told the Chronicle that two of the nine items delivered to the Tarrant County Medical Exam­in­er have already been tested: the plant stand and comal handle. The handle produced no new matches; the blood on the plant stand was proven to be Barz's. Greer declined to comment on efforts to find Gutierrez, saying that any discussion of Perez's alibi is privileged information. She said she has her theories about who the killer may be, but declined to go into detail.

"We have to undermine confidence in the verdict," she says, rather than point to a new killer. "It's better [to implicate someone else], but not necessary."

Members of Barz and Mitchell's families declined to be interviewed for this story. Through a friend, Fulwiler's family also declined comment, saying that the memory drums up too much sadness. Asked whether new discoveries could sway his opinion of whether Perez is the murderer, the friend reiterated that Perez's fingerprints were found all over the house.

Back in Livingston, Perez maintains his focus, and his confidence in Greer and her team. "She's saved my life twice already," he says. "They're that efficient, that smart. They care. They have compassion. They're not with the state [like indigent defense attorneys]. And they're not afraid to speak up. Marcy is a bulldog. She gets in."

In October, Perez received a letter from District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg informing him that his case "may be impacted by recent scientific concerns involving the historical interpretation of DNA results." Lehmberg attached to her letter a notice from Texas Forensic Science Commission presiding officer Vincent Di Maio, which was sent to state and local law enforcement agencies on Aug. 21, 2015. Di Maio said there are "concerns [involving] the interpretation of DNA results where multiple contributors may be present." Included in his letter is an explanation of the FBI's May 2015 announcement that it had found "minor discrepancies" in its population database. (In May 2015, The Washington Post reported that 3% of DNA profiles the FBI had examined since 1999 were potentially affected.)

On Jan. 28, the developments prompted Sage to issue a stay on Perez's execution. She sent a letter to Sian Schilhab, general counsel for Texas' Court of Crim­inal Appeals, indicating that the state has discovered "some potential Brady material in this case and has disclosed that evidence to the defense."

Greer stresses that Sage hasn't found anything definitive yet, but that the three parties are working together "to try to identify where the holes are" in Perez's case. "I don't have all the documents necessary to complete the assessment," she said. "But there is a lot that does not add up about [Perez's] conviction: the evidence in the case, the way the crime scene was processed, and the Medical Examiner's reports."

Perez says that he's "optimistic" about any potential revelations but refuses to get his hopes up. "I don't allow myself to get excited," he says. "I could.

"This is still Texas. They don't give a damn about who you have or nothing. They want you dead, and they're going to do everything to kill me. I understand that. That's already there. The reality is that I will die. Our hope is that something happens and I walk out of here a free man. That's my reality, and I have to face it."

See a video of the Chronicle's interview with Louis Perez, posted here.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify attorney Marcy Greer's comments about other potential suspects.

Got something to say on the subject? Send a letter to the editor.

  • More of the Story

  • On the Inside

    Louis Perez interviewed on Death Row

    On the Outside

    Delia Perez Meyer fights to prove her brother's innocence

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