Ten years after a dead man was found stuffed into an SUV’s cargo area, a Wharton woman has been arrested, accused of taking part in his murder.

Monica Marie Perez, 34, had just been released from prison Tuesday when Wharton County Sheriff’s deputies arrested her on the murder charge.

“She had spent 10 years in TDC (Texas Department of Corrections) on a tampering charge after pleading guilty ... she had just made parole,” Wharton County District Attorney Dawn Allison said Thursday.

Perez’ tampering conviction was due to her efforts to hide the body of Holadio Perales, a Galina Park man, slain Nov. 22, 2009 in Wharton.

“(The district attorney’s office) put a hold on her. Apparently, when she was in jail, she told (other prisoners) that she helped kill the guy, she didn’t just help hide the body.”

Wharton Police received the first indications that a crime had been committed Nov. 24, 2009 when they were called by another law enforcement agency to investigate a possible crime in an undisclosed garage where an argument had taken place the night before.

“They found blood and hair, but couldn’t find a body,” Allison said.

That afternoon, a Fort Bend County Sheriff’s deputy discovered an abandoned Toyota 4-Runner at 16311 Huerta Road, just outside Needville. A license plate check showed it belonged to Perales and the vehicle was transported to Galena Park.

There, Perales’ body was found in the SUV’s cargo area.

An autopsy revealed Perales had been beaten and stabbed, dying of his injuries.

Although the body was discovered in Harris County, all prosecution, it was determined, would be handled in Wharton County where authorities believed the murder took place.

The Houston area teacher was reported missing from Galena Park on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26, 2009.

Perez and now 33-year-old Michael Moreno of Wharton were two of three people initially identified as suspects in the case. They were arrested in December 2009 as they returned to the United States from Mexico across the International Bridge in Brownsville.

A third suspect, Ramon Yanez Vega, now 31, fled to Mexico where its believed he remains. 

“He is the person who we believed did it,” Allison said.

It’s believed Vega knew Perales, but what brought the teacher to Wharton that day is unknown.

Moreno and Perez were indicted in February 2010,  Moreno for hindering apprehension, tampering with evidence and credit or debit card abuse; and Perez for hindering apprehension for tampering with physical evidence, credit or debit card abuse, tampering with a corpse and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.

Both were accused of altering, destroying or concealing clothing which the police could use as evidence in the case and using the victim’s credit card while Perez was believed to have driven Perales’ SUV to Needville while the dead man laid in the back of it.

“It seems pretty clear now they were not directly involved in the killing but became involved after the fact, possibly helping with the disposal of the body,” then Wharton County District Attorney Josh McCown told the newspaper in December 2009 although that stance would later change.

Moreno pleaded no contest to the hindering charge and was convicted in March 2010 and sentenced to seven years in prison.

Perez went to prison in June 2010 after pleading guilty to tampering.

Two months later, the Wharton County Grand Jury indicted Perez on one count of capital murder and one count of murder after listening to evidence presented by then Assistant Wharton County DA Ross Kurtz.

At the time, Kurtz said it was uncertain whether the county would seek the death penalty against Perez.

Perez is being held without bond in the Wharton County Jail as of press time.

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