Phoenix man gets 25 years in killing

A 35-year-old Phoenix man who fatally stabbed his girlfriend along Interstate 5 in May 2005 was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison Wednesday.

Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Tim Gerking ruled that Jose Perez-Silva must spend at least 25 years behind bars. He will get credit for time served since his arrest near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in late May 2009.

"I don't have words to express the amount of pain that was caused by what I did," Perez-Silva said before he was sentenced. Speaking through an interpreter, Perez-Silva told the court he wished he could get 100 years and that his victim, Ana Berthan Meraz, was alive.

Perez-Silva admitted to stabbing and slashing the woman he professed to love, leaving her bleeding on the side of the freeway with multiple wounds that would prove fatal.

The legal question before the judge was whether Perez-Silva should be found guilty of manslaughter or murder.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys presented 280 exhibits and 28 witnesses during the three-day bench trial.

Prosecutors said the two had a relationship while she was married to someone else, but when her divorce was final and Perez-Silva hoped they would be free to marry, she began to pull away. When he professed his love to her in the early morning hours of May 3, 2005, as the two drove to work together, she rejected him and he killed her.

Gerking said he was convinced a "life-and-death struggle" occurred in the car that morning. Meraz likely became alarmed and upset when Perez-Silva drove past their planned off-ramp at exit 24, he said.

A "long, protracted struggle" ensued for 13 miles as Perez-Silva repeatedly slashed and stabbed the victim with a serrated knife. Meraz grabbed for the steering wheel and pulled the emergency brake. The vehicle finally stopped at milepost 11, Gerking said.

"When she tried to get out, he pulled her back in by her hair," Gerking said. "The car was just filled with blood. I am persuaded it was the defendant's intent to kill Ms. Meraz. And he succeeded in doing that."

The defense team had argued that Perez-Silva's extreme emotional disturbance and medical problems — including depression and trichinosis, an infestation of parasites found in pork that have formed cysts in the frontal lobe of his brain — left him without the intent to murder. His attorneys said he should be found guilty only of manslaughter.

Gerking said he considered the defense's arguments for mitigation. The judge said Perez-Silva was a "quiet, lonely individual" who had an "unhealthy obsession" for Meraz. But he'd known their relationship was "in a precarious situation" for months, Gerking said.

"They had a 28-minute telephone conversation the night before the homicide," Gerking said. "I believe that was significant for Mr. Perez-Silva, and it did not go well for him."

The morning of the killing, Perez-Silva was supposed to be returning Meraz's vehicle to her. In reality, he was determined to get answers about their future, Gerking said.

"At about 20 minutes to 6 (a.m.), Ms. Meraz was dead," Gerking said.

Even allowing for Perez-Silva's confusion and upset over her rejection of his affections, his reaction did not fit the statutory requirements for manslaughter, Gerking said.

The victim's daughter, Marissa Meraz, also spoke before Perez-Silva was sentenced. She wept softly as she spoke of the milestones she will never be able to share with her mother. Her high-school graduation is coming in the next year, she said.

"It has been hard to hear how I lost my mother," she said. "I knew this man. We let him into our home and he destroyed it. He destroyed a part of me."

Sanne Specht is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach her at 541-776-4497 or email sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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