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VERNAL — A Guatemalan national accused of beating his cousin to death in Uintah County has been charged with witness tampering after investigators say he tried to convince a family member to change her testimony.
Jose Eduardo Leiva-Perez was scheduled to make his first court appearance Monday in 8th District Court, where he faces one count of witness tampering, a third-degree felony.
Leiva-Perez, 33, sent a family member a letter in October asking her to change her testimony in the murder case against him and "get him deported," according to charging documents.
"Jose included several forms of persuasion in the six-page letter," the charges state.
The letter did not contain any threats, Uintah County Undersheriff John Laursen said. Instead, there were appeals for sympathy based on the woman's religious beliefs and pleas that she not leave Leiva-Perez's children without a father, Laursen said.
Leiva-Perez is charged in 8th District Court with murder, a first-degree felony, in the January 2012 death of David Urrutia inside the Fort Duchesne mobile home the men shared.
Urrutia's body was discovered after a relative called the sheriff's office following a Jan. 7, 2012, phone call from Leiva-Perez. During the call, Leiva-Perez told the woman three men had come to the trailer and beaten Urrutia with baseball bats, according to court records.
The relative also told investigators Leiva-Perez claimed Urrutia had been taken by ambulance to a hospital. Authorities, however, noted that neither the hospitals nor the ambulance services in the area had any record of treating Urrutia.
Urrutia, 38, died after being struck three times in the head with a blunt object, according to an autopsy. He had no defensive wounds, was probably "lying on the couch/bed in the trailer" when he was attacked, and "would not have been aware that the assault was about to take place," court records state.
Leiva-Perez, who speaks no English, has asked a judge to suppress an interview with police that took place following his arrest in California 10 days after Urrutia's body was found. He claims language and cultural differences prevented him from "knowingly and voluntarily" waiving his Miranda rights.
Judge Clark McClellan plans to make a partial ruling on Leiva-Perez's motion to suppress at a Dec. 17 hearing and then allow attorneys to file additional motions, if necessary.
Leiva-Perez has been deported from the United States at least once before, and was in the country illegally when Urrutia was killed. He remains in the Uintah County Jail, where he is being held without bail.