Murder trial ordered for Guatemalan national in cousin's death

Published: Friday, April 5 2013 2:56 p.m. MDT

VERNAL — A Guatemalan national who has been deported from the United States at least once before will stand trial for the beating death of his cousin inside the Uintah County mobile home they shared.

An 8th District judge ruled Thursday that there is sufficient evidence to bind Jose Eduardo Leiva-Perez over for trial on one count of murder, a first-degree felony. Leiva-Perez has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

A Uintah County sheriff's deputy was called to the Country Village trailer park near Fort Duchesne on Jan. 7 to check on David Urrutia's welfare. One of the man's sisters had reported that Urrutia, 39, was not answering his phone and had been in "an altercation," according to charging documents.

The deputy found Urrutia dead inside the trailer. An autopsy determined he died as a result of blunt force trauma to the head, the charges state.

The autopsy also showed that Urrutia had no defensive wounds, was probably "lying on the couch/bed in the trailer" when he was attacked, and "would not have been aware that the assault was about to take place," the charges state.

A family member told investigators Leiva-Perez called her from California after Urrutia's body was found. He told her three men had come to the trailer and beaten Urrutia with baseball bats, and that he had been able to escape. The woman told investigators Leiva-Perez also claimed Urrutia had been taken to an area hospital for treatment.

In court records, a sheriff's detective wrote that the trailer where Urrutia was found was too small to be occupied by five grown men at the same time, as Leiva-Perez had claimed. He also noted that neither the hospitals nor the ambulance services in the area had any record of treating Urrutia.

After his arrest, Leiva-Perez told investigators he and Urrutia argued shortly before his cousin was killed. The argument was apparently about Urrutia's belief that Leiva-Perez was lazy because he was not working or making any financial contribution to the household, detectives said.

Leiva-Perez has been deported from the U.S. at least once and was in the country illegally when Urrutia was killed, according to the Uintah County Sheriff's Office. He was arrested Jan. 17 by a U.S. Marshals Joint Criminal Apprehension Team in Riverside County, Calif, and extradited to Utah.

Leiva-Perez remains in the Uintah County Jail, where he is being held without bail. His next court appearance is set for April 23.

E-mail: gliesik@deseretnews.com, Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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