An admitted gang member accused of gunning down Delano grape grower Jakov Dulcich repeatedly denied involvement in the killing after being told a witness identified him as the shooter and the suspect vehicle — a silver Kia registered to his mother — was found set ablaze at the Kern-Tulare county line, according to court documents.
Questioned by sheriff's investigators, Mariano Perez denied knowing the 84-year-old Dulcich or ever having worked in his fields. Detectives asked if someone paid him to kill Dulcich and asked what Dulcich could have done to him to deserve to die.
Perez, 24, continued to deny involvement and said he had no reason to kill "an old white guy," according to the documents.
He claimed someone must have stolen his mother's vehicle and he knew nothing about the crime. He acknowledged, however, that the evidence pointed to him.
An admitted Norteno gang member with multiple tattoos representing his gang affiliation, Perez, is charged with crimes including first-degree murder in Dulcich's death.
At about 8:23 a.m. April 11, authorities were called to the area of South Browning Road and Brooks Avenue in Delano to a report of a shooting and found Dulcich dead inside an SUV, the documents say. He'd been shot multiple times.
A witness to the shooting told investigators he was traveling on Browning Road when he saw the SUV and a car traveling south on Browning trying to hit each other. He pulled over and started recording the incident on his Snapchat account when the SUV came veered toward him and crashed into his PT Cruiser.
The car stopped at the crash scene and a passenger got out and opened fire on the driver of the SUV, the witness told investigators. The shooter then said "let me go kill this guy too" and started chasing the witness, he said.
The witness said the shooter pointed the gun at him at point blank range and pulled the trigger "but nothing came out," according to the documents. The two then fought, and the witness grabbed the front of the shooter's sweater and pulled it over his head.
The witness told investigators he planned to hold the shooter down, but he became concerned about what the second suspect would do. He released the man and ran south on Browning Road. The shooter returned to the car and the suspects fled.
Later, Kern authorities were notified the Tulare County Sheriff's Office had been dispatched to Road 156 and Avenue 16 north of the county line for a burning 2009 Kia Rio.
The vehicle fit the description of the suspect vehicle and was determined to be registered to Perez's mother, the documents say. Delano police told sheriff's investigators they were familiar with Perez as he was identified during an assault investigation several weeks earlier as driving a silver 2009 Kia Rio.
The witness identified Perez from a photographic lineup as the man who tried to shoot him, according to the documents.
Other witnesses reported it appeared the SUV and car were chasing each other, and that a passenger in the car fired at the SUV at a stop sign on Browning south of Garces Highway.
Perez was arrested April 14. Investigators collected a DNA sample through a buccal swab and seized his sweatshirt, shoes and phone.
He's being held on $2 million bail and is next due in court Monday.