57-year-old Paul Perez, a convicted sex offender with a 20 year criminal history was just days away from being released from Kern State Prison in Kern County, California. It was in those days leading to his release that Perez was arrested and charged with the death of his five children.
The investigation dates back to 2007 when a fisherman pulled a metal cooler that had been weighed down out of an irrigation slough near Woodland, California, about 80 miles northeast of San Francisco.
“When I opened that box, I was 99 percent sure it was a human body but I wanted to hold on to the belief that maybe it wasn't,” Brian Roller, the fisherman that has not forgotten that day told the Associated Press. “When I saw one of the officers (at the scene) start to cry, I knew right then that what I was thinking was true.”
The 3-month-old boy found wrapped in a Winnie the Pooh blanket would not be identified officially until October 2019, but an autopsy showed that he had died from blunt force trauma. He had a fractured skull, and fractures to his ribs and other bones, some of which had begun to heal before his death.
“Having an unsolved death of a child on file has haunted my agency for years,” said Yolo County Sheriff Tom Lopez during a press conference. “We learned that Nikko was not an only child. Four other children suffered the same fate. All were believed to have been murdered as infants.”
“There were many doubts the case would ever be solved,” Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig said.
In October, the identity of the child was identified through the use of a DNA database as Nikko Lee Perez, born Nov. 8, 1996, in Fresno, California, the third of five children. His siblings were identified as Kato Allen Perez, born in 1992 and known to be deceased, Mika Alena Perez, born in 1995, another Nikko Lee Perez, born in 1997, and Kato Krow Perez, born in 2001. Three of the bodies have not been recovered.
“There’s so much unknown about the case. The question I have – like everyone else has – where’s the mom? And why isn’t she here?” Yolo County Public Defender Olson said outside court following the hearing according to the Sacramento Bee. “There are a lot of unanswered questions. I didn’t hear anything that convinces me my client is guilty of anything.”
Perez has been charged with five counts of premeditated murder with special circumstances of lying in wait, torture and multiple victims. He also faces charges of assault on a child under 8 and criminal enhancements for his prior convictions. He has entered a plea of not guilty. Reisig has stated his office is considering pursuing the death penalty despite a state moratorium on capitol punishment.