Three members of a sex bondage ring were ordered to stand trial Monday after six days of lurid testimony during which investigators outlined how they believe a Camp Pendleton Marine's wife was unwittingly lured to a violent death when she agreed to go on a dinner cruise.
Superior Court Judge K. Michael Kirkman said evidence suggested that 22-year-old Brittany Killgore was the victim of a plan to act out a fantasy. He ordered Louis Perez, 46, Dorothy Maraglino, 37, and Jessica Lopez, 25, to face trial on charges of murder, kidnapping, torture, attempted sexual battery and conspiracy.
Killgore agreed to go on the cruise with Perez after she asked for help moving furniture out of her apartment, according to investigators' testimony. Even then, she was reluctant and accepted only after Maraglino, Perez's roommate, gave her blessings to the date in a phone call.
Lopez told others in the bondage community shortly before Killgore disappeared that she planned to unleash an attack, Patrick Espinoza, a deputy district attorney, told the judge.
"We know from the evidence that that unsuspecting prey was Brittany Killgore," Espinoza said.
Despite the discovery of Killgore's blood in Perez's car the day after her disappearance, defense attorneys argued that physical evidence was lacking.
Lopez's attorney, Sloan Ostbye, called her client "the perfect slave" in the triangle and said her role explained why Lopez authored a handwritten letter taking full blame for Killgore's death. In the letter, Lopez claimed she killed Killgore out of fear that the woman would steal Perez, whom she described as her "master."
"It's not a confession letter, it's an exoneration letter ... to help mistress and master," Ostbye said.
Killgore disappeared in April 2012 after borrowing a purple evening gown for the cruise, according to prosecutors. Her nude, strangled body was four days later near Lake Skinner, north of San Diego.
Earlier Monday, the lead detective testified that a document attributed to Maraglino identifies her as a participant in a beating and asphyxiation.
"We had the best of intentions and any injury or loss of life should be considered an accident," read the document recovered from a CD.
Detective Brian Patterson, who read the document aloud, said investigators also found whips, paddles, videos and other evidence of a sex bondage activity at Maraglino's home in Fallbrook, north of San Diego.
Another San Diego County sheriff's detective, Daniel Pierce, testified that cellphone towers traced Lopez's phone to the area where Killgore's body was found. The phone was located in the area shortly before 4 a.m., several hours after Killgore disappeared.
Last week, Elizabeth Hernandez, who was identified in court as the victim's best friend, testified that she and Killgore became acquainted with the defendants in 2011 after Hernandez responded to an ad selling a fertility monitor on a website used by military families. She said they used to socialize with them but never participated in their alternative lifestyle in which Perez played the master, Maraglino was the mistress and Lopez was the slave.
Hernandez testified that she and Killgore had a falling out in 2012 as the victim prepared to divorce her husband, Lance Cpl. Cory Killgore, who was serving in Afghanistan at the time of his wife's death.
She said Brittany Killgore started dating Hernandez's brother, and they started referring to her as "the disease."
Perez told investigators he dropped off Killgore in downtown San Diego's bustling Gaslamp District, but investigators concluded that he lied about his whereabouts and stayed in Fallbrook.
Perez was the first to be arrested on suspicion of possessing a stolen assault rifle and was later charged with murder. Lopez was arrested two days later at a San Diego hotel where authorities said she was discovered with self-inflicted cuts.
Associated Press writer Julie Watson contributed to this report.