The family of Fatima Perez gathered in a Camden, New Jersey courtroom Thursday, wiped tears from their eyes, and listened to a prosecutor describe how the mother of two from East Camden was kidnapped and then met her end.
Minutes later in a corridor, Perez’s mother cried out, “Por que?”
You see, authorities say Perez was bound, gagged, and blindfolded, then two men poured lime on her and buried her alive in a shallow grave in neighboring Gloucester County, according to the Philadelphia Daily News.
Perez’s family got a look at the pair charged with her murder — Carlos Alicea-Antonetti, 36, of Camden, and Ramon Ortiz, 57, of Pennsauken — who reportedly showed little emotion during the proceedings.
Alicea-Antonetti had landscaped for Perez and told authorities he picked her up Monday morning to take her to purchase a car, according to Special Deputy Attorney General Christine Shah. Perez was holding $8,000 cash.
Perez and Alicea-Antonetti, who’s married with children, allegedly had an argument, after which he claimed Perez fell out of his van. But despite being injured, she got back inside. Then Alicea-Antonetti tied up Perez and put her in the back of his van.
After Alicea-Antonetti picked up Ortiz — who worked for Alicea-Antonetti’s landscaping and maintenance company — Perez reportedly said something to Ortiz that made Shah’s voice shake as she read the account to the courtroom.
“Ortiz said Ms. Perez asked him to help her,” Shah said.
He did not. And the van drove on.
By nightfall, authorities said, the suspects reportedly stopped in Monroe Township, about 20 miles south of Camden, pulled Perez — whose eyes were covered and mouth bound by tape — from the van, and took her to a field. Ortiz allegedly said he dug a grave, and then he and Alicea-Antonetti shoveled dirt and lime on top of Perez.
An autopsy revealed she died of asphyxiation.
“It’s been the worst two days of my life. Horrible,” Vanessa Castro told KYW-TV in Philadelphia, describing the wait for news about her 41-year-old sister. “My nephew he’s only seven so I don’t think he can still understand what happened.”
More from the Daily News:
A tip led investigators to the Express Inn in Cherry Hill, where they found Ortiz in a room about 3 a.m. Wednesday and Alicea-Antonetti walking nearby. The two men had about $7,000 in cash and had dismantled a cellphone.
Ortiz, who has a long history of drug charges, led authorities to the grave, which the men had tried to conceal with branches and other debris.
It was not Alicea-Antonetti’s first time in a courtroom, either. In April 2006, he was charged with aggravated assault for choking his wife with his hands, Shah said.
Two of Perez’s sisters said she was always hard at work cleaning office buildings and was a loving mother. A native of Nicaragua, Perez was single and frequented Sunday Mass at St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral in Camden.
Alicea-Antonetti and Ortiz were held on $5 million bail each. According to KYW, the pair face life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.