Arson suspect could stand trial by late spring

Jon Wilcox By Jon Wilcox

Jan. 11, 2018 at 10:51 p.m.
Updated Jan. 12, 2018 at 6 a.m.

Marq Vincent Perez is escorted from the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Building in Victoria on Thursday after a pretrial hearing. Perez,  of Victoria, is accused of intentionally setting a fire that destroyed the Victoria Islamic Center  in January 2017.

Marq Vincent Perez is escorted from the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Building in Victoria on Thursday after a pretrial hearing. Perez, of Victoria, is accused of intentionally setting a fire that destroyed the Victoria Islamic Center in January 2017.    Evan Lewis for The Victoria Advocate

A federal judge wants mosque arson suspect Marq Vincent Perez to stand trial by April or May.

"It's my duty to not let this thing languish," said presiding Senior U.S. District Judge John Rainey, adding, "We're going to have to fish or cut bait."

At 1 p.m. Thursday, Perez, his defense attorney and prosecutors appeared in a fourth floor courtroom in the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Building in Victoria for the third pretrial conference since Perez's indictment in June.

Perez, a 26-year-old Victoria resident, is accused of setting fire to and destroying the Victoria Islamic Center in January 2017.

Perez is federally charged with arson; damaging a religious property, a hate crime; and possession of an explosive device, a charge unrelated to the mosque's fire. He faces a maximum sentence of 40 years in a federal prison and up to a $750,000 fine.

Wearing a blue DeWitt County Jail uniform, glasses, a short ponytail and shackles, Perez remained silent as attorneys conferred with the judge during the 30-minute conference.

Attorneys began the conference with discussion of where they stand in processing the voluminous amount of evidence, which includes 40,000 pages of documents and more than 170 GB of digital material.

"Even if you were to binge-watch, it would take some time to go through all that," said Rainey during court.

After the conference, Perez's attorney, Mark Di Carlo, of Corpus Christi, said he was about halfway through reviewing the evidence but hoped to finish by the next pretrial conference scheduled for 2 p.m. Feb. 7.

"Hopefully, I will have it completed within 30 days," Di Carlo said.

Although Di Carlo and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sharad S. Khandelwal initially told Rainey they could be prepared for trial by July, the judge rejected that date as too distant.

"Wow, are you serious?" Rainey asked. "That is way out there."

Instead, he told attorneys to be ready by April or May.

Rainey also asked whether both attorneys had considered avoiding trial through a plea deal. Di Carlo said Perez was offered a deal weeks ago but rejected it.

The attorney declined to reveal the details of that deal.

"My client isn't interested in a plea bargain deal because he asserts his innocence," Di Carlo said. "We believe the government has a weak case, and we intend to go to trial."


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