PITTSBURGH — A fugitive wanted in a slaying more than a decade ago in Indiana has been sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for firing shots at FBI agents during a standoff near Pittsburgh last fall, after a federal judge rejected pleas for leniency because of the man's violent upbringing in a gang-plagued neighborhood near Chicago.
Frank Perez Jr., 31, was living in Verona, about 10 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, using the name Troy Will East when agents served a warrant for his arrest in the July 13, 1999, murder in northwestern Indiana.
Rather than surrender on Oct. 4, Perez fired at least 20 shots at agents — including an FBI SWAT team — who surrounded the apartment where he lived with his fiancee, their then 7-month-old son, and his fiancee's 12-year-old daughter. The FBI had called the fiancee, Rickiesha Edwards, away from the home minutes earlier and urged her to return only to grab her baby — her daughter was in school that afternoon — before the FBI fired two dozen tear gas rounds but no gunshots into the apartment.
Edwards did that, and nobody was injured before Perez surrendered a couple of hours later, but not before barricading himself in the house and firing at agents using two pistols and a 12-gauge shotgun. Perez pleaded guilty in March to assaulting federal agents with a dangerous weapon and using a firearm during a crime of violence after his attorney acknowledged the evidence was "incontrovertible."
Perez, his mother, and Edwards asked U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer to be lenient, though the judge's hands were tied somewhat by the mandatory minimum 10-year sentence he faced for the firearms charge. Still, defense attorney Scott Westcott was hoping the judge would consider Perez's troubled background and add less than the additional five years Fischer eventually imposed for the federal assault charge.
Edwards vouched for Perez as a doting father, and said she plans to marry him if and when he's released from prison. But her credibility took a hit when she acknowledged under cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Troy Rivetti that she didn't learn Perez's true name until after his October arrest and never met his family — with whom she presented a united front in court Tuesday — until December or January, despite having a child by Perez in March 2011.
Still, Perez's mother sought to explain his behavior by noting he saw his first dead body at age 8, when someone was slain behind their house in East Chicago, Ind., and later fell in with the wrong crowd — including his stepfather — who was involved in "the streets" that included drugs, violence and prostitution. Prosecutors also contend Perez was a gang member, though his mother, Margaret Velazquez, insisted her son wasn't in the gang, but had friends who were.
"Did he do a terrible thing back in October 2011, yes he did," Westcott said, before asking for a lower sentence.
Rivetti argued that a stiff sentence was necessary to "incapacitate" Perez and send the message to others who might consider firing shots at federal agents.
"Your honor, the seriousness of this crime can't be overstated," Rivetti said, adding that the shootings were in "utter defiance of law enforcement."
Officials with the Lake County, Ind., prosecutor's office did not immediately return calls asking when they plan to extradite Perez on the 1999 murder charge.
At the time of the October standoff, Perez was on Indiana's list of most wanted fugitives for the slaying of Jose Pena Jr. in Whiting, Ind., near Chicago. Police said the men were arguing about a woman before the shooting.