Suspect in Killgore death pleads not guilty to murder charge

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.

Jessica Lynn Lopez, 25, pleaded not guilty to the murder charge during a brief court hearing in Vista. She faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted in the death of Brittany Killgore, a Fallbrook resident who disappeared Friday.

Killgore's body was found Tuesday near Temecula, north of Lake Skinner, just hours after Lopez's arrest. Sheriff's Capt. Duncan Fraser said information gathered during Lopez's arrest led them to the body, although neither he nor prosecutors would elaborate.

Superior Court Judge Sim von Kalinowski set Lopez's bail at $3 million. She 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 earlier today, San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis declined to provide details regarding Lopez's alleged involvement in Killgore's disappearance and death.

At Lopez's arraignment, Deputy District Attorney Patrick Espinoza said Lopez was found in a Point Loma motel room suffering from self-inflicted wounds, along with writings described as a suicide note.

He would not provide details on how Killgore died, saying only her death was the result of “homicidal violence.”

Killgore vanished after meeting with Staff Sgt. Louis Ray Perez, 45, a Camp Pendleton-based Marine who was subsequently arrested on weapon-theft charges, according to investigators.

Perez, a 16-year 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. But he also is being “actively investigated” in connection with the Killgore case, Fraser said.

Bail was kept high — $500,000 — with the judge agreeing that Perez was a flight risk. He 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,” Dumanis said. “This case has shaken many in San Diego County and many in the military community at Camp Pendleton.”

The county's top prosecutor, without elaborating, said there has been a lot of misinformation in the media about the case. Dumanis urged anyone with information about Killgore's disappearance and death to call Crime Stoppers at (888) 580-8477.

Authorities have not said how Lopez knew Killgore. According to U-T San Diego, public records showed Lopez and Perez once lived in the same Fallbrook apartment, about a half-mile from the apartment Killgore shared with her husband.

A neighbor told the newspaper that Lopez and a female roommate live in same Fallbrook 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's grandmother, Cheryl Coble of Farmington, Mo., told a hometown newspaper 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 to 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, Darryl Wrest, and grandfather flew to Southern California this week and handed out photos and information about her, Coble said.

Killgore, a former Missouri resident, had separated from her husband and shipped all her belongings to her parents' home in Pennsylvania, with plans to travel there this week to 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.

Killgore filed for divorce last week, according to court records. Marine Corps officials agreed to send her husband, Cory, a Pendleton-based Marine, home from Afghanistan following her disappearance. It was unclear when he would return to San Diego County.

Categories: KUSI