- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ninety-four-year-old Margaret Arnold recalls lying in her basement nearly two years ago, bound with a clothesline and gagged with a rag.

The lights at her Bethesda home had suddenly shut off and she had gone to check on her circuit breaker. That’s when a man dressed in black grabbed her.

“I started yelling, ‘What are you doing here? Get out of my house,’ ” Mrs. Arnold said. “I started to pray and asked God to protect me.”

She testified Tuesday in Montgomery County Circuit Court at the start of the trial of Jose Garcia-Perlera, a Hyattsville man accused of killing one elderly woman and terrorizing three others between late 2007 and last September. Mr. Garcia- Perlera has been indicted on 15 counts, including robbery, burglary and the murder of 63-year-old Mary Havenstein of Bethesda.

Authorities say Mr. Garcia- Perlera, 34, hogtied his victims - binding their hands and feet together - and stuffed their mouths. They say one woman chewed her way through her gag before being rescued nearly three days later. The cases drew widespread attention in the affluent D.C. suburb, where officials say more than 700 people attended one of several community forums held after the attacks.

In his opening statement, Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said DNA evidence links Mr. Garcia-Perlera to three of the crimes. Mr. McCarthy also said stolen items from each of the women’s houses were found during a search of Mr. Garcia-Perlera’s apartment.

Prosecutors pointed to similarities among the incidents: All victims were elderly widows who lived alone; they were all bound and gagged; similar items, such as jewelry, were taken from them. The attacks also occurred in a small geographic area. Such connections of circumstances “scream and tell you it is the same person,” Mr. McCarthy said.

Mr. Garcia-Perlera listened to the testimony Tuesday through a translator. His attorney, Alan Drew, said it’s hard not to sympathize with the victims, but urged jurors to scrutinize the evidence.

Authorities found DNA on a backpack left at one woman’s home, and on material used to gag another woman. They also found DNA on material used to bind Mrs. Havenstein, and on a wooden stick near her body, prosecutors said.

But Mr. Drew raised questions about the forensic evidence, saying it’s unclear when the DNA samples were deposited in each place.

In addition, Mr. Drew said it’s significant that Mr. Garcia-Perlera’s fingerprints were not found in any of the homes or vehicles that were stolen from the women.

The trial is expected to last about a week.

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