Marine pleads not guilty in the killing of another Marine’s wife

SAN DIEGO — A Marine staff sergeant pleaded not guilty Thursday to a charge of murdering the 22-year-old wife of a fellow Marine as the prosecutor announced that the victim’s blood and a possible murder weapon were found in the defendant’s car.

A judge ordered Staff Sgt. Louis Perez, 45, held in jail on $3-million bail in the killing of Brittany Dawn Killgore, whose body was found dumped near Lake Skinner in Riverside County.

Killgore had been set to attend a dinner cruise in San Diego with Perez and his girlfriend on April 13 but instead sent a text message to a friend saying she was in “distress” and needed help, Deputy Dist. Atty. Patrick Espinoza said during an arraignment in San Diego County Superior Court. The friend was not identified.

Judge Kimberlee Lagotta set bail at the same amount for Perez as for Jessica Lynn Lopez, 25, also charged in connection with the slaying. Lopez, who shares the same Fallbrook address as Perez, also has pleaded not guilty.

Perez was the last person seen with Killgore on April 13. San Diego County sheriff’s deputies interviewed him two days later, arresting him on suspicion of possessing a stolen assault rifle and labeling him as a person of interest in Killgore’s disappearance.

Espinoza told the court Thursday that Perez’s contention that he had dropped off Killgore at the Gaslamp District in downtown San Diego was a lie: Perez never left Fallbrook, and killed Killgore while in his car, the prosecutor said.

Perez’s attorney, Jeff Reichert, hinted at a possible defense strategy, pointing to the second suspect, Lopez, who was found April 17 in a motel in San Diego after attempting suicide, authorities said.

In a suicide note that authorities say Lopez left behind, she admits killing Killgore and exonerates Perez, Reichert told Lagotta, who has sealed the note without revealing its contents.

The prosecutor said a weapon, which he did not identify, was found in Perez’s car. No cause of death or motive has been announced by authorities.

Perez and Lopez are set to return to court May 10 for a readiness hearing.

Killgore had filed for divorce from her husband, Lance Cpl. Cory Killgore, days before she disappeared and was preparing to move back to her family in Missouri. Her husband was serving in Afghanistan, but has returned on emergency leave arranged by the Red Cross.

He and Perez served at Camp Pendleton.

“Brittany’s death cannot be in vain,” Killgore said in a statement Thursday. “At this point, I don’t know how to use this tragedy for good, but others have found their way and I hope to do the same. Brittany meant too much to do any less.”