Two north San Diego County residents convicted in the grisly 2012 torture and slaying of a young military wife were sentenced to life in prison Thursday.
Former U.S. Marine staff sergeant Louis Perez, 49, along with Dorothy Grace Maraglino, 40, and Jessica Lynn Lopez, 28, were convicted last month in the killing of Fallbrook resident Brittany Killgore, 22. Each defendant faced a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Perez and Maraglino were sentenced to life behind bars Thursday, while Lopez is expected to be sentenced in January 2016.
At his sentencing, Perez addressed the courtroom, thanking his family and friends who have stood by him "during this horrible and trying time."
"Those that know me, know that I have never raised my hand in anger at another soul," said Perez. "I have to apologize to all of the families that have had to suffer through these trials and tribulations. This is tragedy in the worst case."
Killgore's body was found naked and strangled in a Riverside County ravine four days after she was reported missing in April 2012. According to prosecutors, one of the most chilling details of the case included Killgore’s last text message to a friend — "Help" — sent shortly after getting into Perez’s truck. Perez was the last person to see Killgore alive, according to prosecutors, on April 13, 2012.
Impact statements from Killgore's family members were read in court during the sentencing phase, including one from Killgore's 9-year-old brother, read by Peggy Higgins on his behalf.
In the statement, the victim's brother talked about the last time he saw his sister alive and how she promised to help him get ahead on a difficult video game he had been stuck on.
The boy said he thinks of Killgore often.
"I love my sister and I miss her very much. I want her back," the boy's statement said. "The people that hurt Brittany are bad and I hope they stay in prison forever."
Higgins also read a statement on behalf of Killgore's father, who described the last time he saw his daughter and how the family was busy planning his daughter's move back home when she was killed.
The family had been looking forward to seeing Killgore again April 15, 2012, but that day never came.
The father's statement included his final memories of his daughter — the day he and his family saw the cold, metal casket that held her remains.
"A few weeks later, we walked into a funeral home to see a metal shipping casket, screwed shut, so that it could not be opened. After the trial, we all know why we could not view our beautiful Brittany," the statement said. “Many events imprinted in our memory about our loss, but repeatedly hugging a cold, metal casket while trying to understand what was happening will be forever imprinted in my memory.”
The father's statement went on to describe the pain he feels on a daily basis when he thinks about the torture his daughter experienced during her slaying.
“What I feel as a victim cannot compare to the real victim, my daughter Brittany. Her life was violently and senselessly taken in her prime. I am her father and, as such, am supposed to protect her. I failed her."
"I struggle every day trying not to think of what she felt; what she was thinking. Was she in pain? Was she praying she would be helped? When will it end?” the statement continued. "If I do [think about this] I know I cannot mentally survive. I am trapped."
At trial, prosecutors said Perez, Maraglino and Lopez lived together in a home in Fallbrook where police discovered a sex dungeon with whips, ropes, sex apparatuses, spiked collars and a Taser, among other items, used in their lifestyle of bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism.
Prosecutors contended the trio killed Killgore "for their own sadistic pleasure," strangling her with the intention of dismembering her.
After deliberating for more than 18 hours over the course of three days, a jury announced its verdict on Oct. 21, convicting all three of murder, kidnapping, torture and sexual battery. The only charge that was tossed out was one count against Lopez of conspiracy to kidnap.
After the verdict was announced, Killgore’s mother, Michelle Wrest, spoke with reporters and praised the tireless work of detectives and prosecutors over the past three-and-a-half years. Wrest said her daughter was a beautiful person who got mixed up with the wrong people.
"Our daughter was a beautiful woman inside and out. Unfortunately, she run (sic) across people who were monsters and took her life," Wrest said. "She is going to be missed for the rest of our lives. We have a lot of family that have to deal with this on a daily basis."
To read a complete timeline of this high-profile murder case, click here.