An Orcutt woman, charged with being an accessory to a murder at Elmer's bar, may face deportation after her felony dismissal request was denied by a judge Wednesday in Santa Maria.
Mayra Perez, a 30-year-old undocumented immigrant, was sentenced in August to 365 days in County Jail and five years probation after pleading no contest to being an accessory to the murder after the fact. According to previous testimony, Perez drove her children 230 miles back to Orcutt after Jonathan Highley allegedly called her, drunk, on March 4 after Anthony "Tony" San Juan was killed in a shooting.
After her release from County Jail, Perez was placed in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention at the Adelanto Detention Facility Center.
On Wednesday, Perez's attorney David Bixby requested that the court consider her petition seeking to dismiss her charges, pointing to her lack of criminal history and arguing that deportation would impact her children.
According to the law, if it is in the interest of justice, a judge may allow a defendant to file the petition to dismiss before probation ends. Those convicted of a misdemeanor may also be eligible to petition.
"It's been a very unfortunate situation. I can't even express the pointlessness of the action taken by Ms. Perez's husband; however, I feel that in any respect, we sort of lumped her into the case, or crime if you would, almost as if she was complicit in his behavior and what occurred," Bixby said.
"She's a young mom with four children who, quite frankly, didn't know what to do in the situation."
Perez wrote letters to the court, requesting her case to be reduced to a misdemeanor, and to resentence her case from 365 days to 364 days.
"I'm currently in immigration proceedings, so I'm throwing myself in the court's mercy to consider my request," Perez wrote in December. "I have four children who depend on me and are in desperate need of their mother to come home.
"Please have mercy on me. If I'm not able to drop this, my children will be left in foster care if I get deported."
In another letter, written Jan. 3, Perez said she had no income to pay off court fees, and that she was "unaware if I will be deported to my native country of Mexico or I'll be able to stay in this country."
During her Aug. 2 sentencing, both Bixby and prosecutor Anne Nudson argued over whether Perez should be sentenced to 364 or 365 days, as one full day made a colossal difference in the outcome of Perez's deportation proceedings over her lack of citizenship.
"As the court recalls, I originally asked Your Honor to sentence her to 364 days because there's an arbitrary standard set by someone somewhere in Washington, D.C., that has nothing to do with this case, other than the fact that there's a one-day difference," Bixby said. "At this point, we have a chance to revisit the situation."
Nudson again countered that Perez's ICE proceedings didn't show good cause to reduce or terminate her case, and maintained that everyone, including Perez herself, was aware of her possible deportation. She also noted that it's only been six months since Perez's sentencing.
"She knew her husband shot someone when she left her house with her four children, and later, she came home, helped [Highley] clean up, and she's the person who moved the murder weapon from the home and into the car," Nudson said.
When interviewed by police, Perez lied three times before finally being honest about what happened, Nudson claimed.
"Even if she's completely separate from what [Highley] did that night, Ms. Perez's [role] is still covering up a homicide, or attempting to cover up, and helping her husband get away with the homicide is felony behavior in and of itself," Nudson argued.
After hearing both parties, Judge Gustavo Lavayen denied the petition, reminding counsel that he had considered sending her to prison last year, and agreeing that Perez's actions that night were "very deliberate, [as] she had multiple hours upon which to reflect her actions."
"She put her children in a position to jeopardize them, as well as herself," Lavayen said. "ICE consequences were something we were aware of, and that she was aware of."
Highley's case returns to court March 7.