Testimony of Montgomery County Attack Survivors Captivates Jurors

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 21, 2009

A week after jurors convicted Jose Garcia-Perlera of murder and other charges stemming from break-ins at the homes of four widows that left one of them dead, Montgomery County courthouse regulars were still buzzing about the three perfect witnesses whose testimony did him in.

The survivors, 78, 79 and 94, who were hogtied in their basements, seemed at once gentle and gritty. Particularly devastating to Garcia-Perlera's case, they identified as theirs pieces of unique jewelry and other items that detectives had found stashed in his apartment.

Among the jewelry was a ring that bears a carving linked to the Persian Empire. One of the women purchased the ring five decades ago.

"When I lived for many years in Afghanistan, we'd go to the bazaar and shops," Ann Wolfe, 79, of Potomac testified during the second day of the trial last week.

As she did so, prosecutors asked her to stand in front of the jury box and describe the ring.

"It's been set into silver, and it's a glass carving of some kind of bird or something like that. And it's a Sassanian Seal. Sassanians were Persian Empire, which after Alexander the Great in Afghanistan, after he passed through and he set up three kingdoms there, and they all began squabbling . . . so basically this is probably from the early part of the Christian era."

In the jury box, foreman Wilbert Johnson hung on every word.

"That ring had history to it," he said in an interview after the verdict Friday evening. "Ms. Wolfe explained history with that ring."

Johnson and the other jurors deliberated for less than three hours before convicting Garcia-Perlera of robbing the three women and killing a fourth, Mary Frances Havenstein, 63, who was found tied and dead on her bedroom floor in her Bethesda home. Garcia-Perlera, who authorities say is an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 13, court records say.

Andy Jezic, a criminal defense lawyer who had no connection to the case, dropped by the courtroom on the trial's second day to watch the proceedings. Wolfe mesmerized him.

"All I could think of was I would love to have lunch with, and get to know, this person," Jezic said. "She was the most likable witness I have ever seen."

Wolfe barely survived the attack. She testified that she spent 2 1/2 days bound in her basement, tied to a pole. She wiggled around on her back, calling out, "Help, help, help," even though she knew no one could hear her. She chewed her way through a duct-tape gag, breaking two molars in the process. Wolfe was rescued after her daughter came to meet her for lunch. Wolfe spent five days in a hospital and was left with limited use of her right hand.

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