Woman faces murder charges in death of military wife - San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 - cbs8.com

Woman faces murder charges in death of military wife

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Jessica Lynn Lopez in court Thursday. Jessica Lynn Lopez in court Thursday.
Jessica Lynn Lopez Jessica Lynn Lopez
Brittany Killgore Brittany Killgore

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A woman who was arrested in a Point Loma motel in an apparently suicidal state was charged with murder Thursday in connection with the death of a 22-year-old military wife whose body was found in Riverside County.

During a brief court hearing in Vista Thursday, April 19, Jessica Lynn Lopez, 25, pleaded not guilty to killing Brittany Killgore, a Fallbrook resident who went missing Friday.

Killgore's body was found alongside a rural road about a mile north of Lake Skinner on Tuesday, a few hours after Lopez was taken into custody.

Sheriff's Capt. Duncan Fraser said information gleaned from Lopez's arrest led authorities to the remote spot, although neither he nor prosecutors would elaborate.

Superior Court Judge Sim von Kalinowski set the defendant's bail at $3 million. Lopez, who faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted, is due back in court May 2 for a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence for her to stand trial.

During a news conference Thursday morning, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis announced that Lopez would be charged with murder but declined to provide details regarding the defendant's alleged involvement in Killgore's disappearance and death.

At Lopez's arraignment, Deputy District Attorney Patrick Espinoza said she was found in a Rosecrans Street motel room suffering from self-inflicted wounds, along with a suicide note.

He would not reveal how Killgore died, saying only that her death was the result of "homicidal violence."

According to investigators, Killgore vanished after meeting with Staff Sgt. Louis Ray Perez. The 45-year-old Camp Pendleton-based Marine was subsequently arrested on weapon-theft charges, but also is being "actively investigated" in connection with the Killgore case, Fraser said.

Perez, a 16-year military veteran assigned to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of possession of stolen property and illegal possession of an assault rifle.

Bail was kept high -- $500,000 -- with the judge agreeing that Perez was a flight risk. The serviceman is due back in court for a readiness conference April 26 and a preliminary hearing on May 17.

Perez, who faces up to three years and eight months behind bars if convicted on the weapons charges, remains a "person of interest" in Killgore's death, and additional charges are possible, Dumanis said.

"Our hearts go out to Brittany's husband, Cory, as well as her family and friends, who are dealing with this sudden loss," she said. "This case has shaken many in San Diego County and many in the military community at Camp Pendleton."

The county's top prosecutor contended that news coverage of the high-profile case had been rife with misinformation, though she would not provide examples of the purported distortions.

While making a brief public statement this afternoon, Killgore's father, Darryl Wrest, decried what he characterized as slurs on his late daughter's name.

"Brittany was a victim," Wrest said outside the Kearny Mesa headquarters of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department. "She did nothing wrong. There have been stories and comments made from people who do not know my daughter and have their own agendas or opinions."

Wrest did not specify what statements he had found troubling, though he said they had "absolutely no basis in fact."

"Please leave my daughter in peace," he said in an emotion-choked voice. "She does not deserve to be a victim of lies and innuendo any more than she deserved to be murdered. We are devastated and ask to be left alone to grieve at this time. Be assured, we will fight for Brittany to ensure justice is served for her."

Authorities have not said how Lopez knew Killgore. Lopez and Perez reportedly once lived in the same Fallbrook apartment, about a half-mile from the rental residence Killgore shared with her husband.

A neighbor said Lopez and a female roommate live in same apartment she once shared with Perez, and he was often seen there.

The Lopez family released a statement through an attorney Wednesday.

"We pray for the family of Brittany Killgore and ask that the Lord comfort them during their time of grief and anguish. We ask that you pray for all those impacted by this tragic situation, including our family," the statement said.

Killgore filed for divorce last week, according to court records. Marine Corps officials agreed to send her Camp Pendleton-based husband home from Afghanistan following her disappearance. The serviceman reportedly was due to arrive back in San Diego County sometime this week.

Killgore's grandmother, Cheryl Coble of Farmington, Mo., told a hometown newspaper that the victim's mother notified San Diego law enforcement about her daughter's disappearance after receiving a call from a stranger who found Killgore's cell phone in the downtown Gaslamp District.

On the night of her disappearance, she was supposed to have gone out with Perez and his girlfriend on a dinner cruise, but it was unclear if the plan came together, Coble told the Daily Journal of Park Hills, Mo. The girlfriend -- it was not immediately clear if she was referring to Lopez -- apparently backed out at the last minute, she added.

Killgore's father and grandfather traveled to Southern California this week and handed out missing-person fliers, Coble said.

Killgore, a former Missouri resident, had separated from her husband and shipped most of her belongings to her parents' home in Pennsylvania, with plans to travel there this week and move back in with them, Coble told the newspaper.

Killgore's family had lived in Rolla, Mo., before relocating to Pennsylvania last fall. Killgore had been looking forward to reuniting with her family, her grandmother said.

"She just wanted to be at her parents' house and just wanted to sit and hold her new niece," Coble told the Daily Journal.

While addressing news crews Thursday afternoon, Killgore's father lauded his late daughter and lamented her death.

"I am here to speak for Brittany, as her voice was taken from her," Wrest said. "Brittany was a beautiful, kind, caring young woman trying to find her way in this world. Family and friends love and miss Brittany beyond words."

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