In Mario Perez Roque’s bedroom on Wednesday, visitors could see a movie poster-sized picture of the woman police allege he kidnapped in Kenner and brought to his apartment in Mid-City five days earlier.
There was also a hole — roughly a yard wide, a yard long and 4 feet deep, dug through the room’s ceramic tile floor and into the ground below his apartment — that police said had been concealed by his bed when he brought the woman there Friday.
Perez’s brother — Jose Antonio “Tony” Perez, who owns the property — admitted the strangeness of the scene. But he nonetheless strongly disputed authorities’ description of the apartment in the 100 block of North Lopez Street as a “house of horrors.”
He also said the situation surrounding Mario Perez — whom he described as having a childlike mind — is more complicated than police have claimed, and he vowed to stand by his younger brother no matter what.
“Whatever the case, he’s my brother,” Tony Perez, 65, said of Mario Perez, 59. “Everything that’s happened hurts me.”
Tony said Mario has had mental health issues dating back to their boyhood in Cuba. Both arrived in the United States in 1980 as part of the Mariel boatlift, a large-scale migration that grew controversial when it emerged that some of the migrants had been released from Cuban prisons or mental health institutions.
Tony Perez said his brother had not been institutionalized in the island nation, but that it was obvious when they were children that Mario “had problems with the brain.”
“The doctor said ... when he’s 40, it is like he’s 15 years old,” Tony said of Mario. “When he’s 50, he’s like 20.”
Tony said he and his brother lived in New Orleans together for a time in the 1980s, but then Mario moved to New Jersey. He was convicted there of attempted murder and kidnapping stemming from a 1985 arrest in Newark, but Tony said they never spoke of that until the younger brother returned to the New Orleans area in the mid-2000s after serving time in prison.
Mario Perez was then arrested in Kenner and charged with the attempted murder of a man with whom he was feuding over a woman, but after spending time in a mental institution, he eventually pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of possession of a firearm by a felon.
When his brother was released from the Jefferson Parish jail in May 2009, Tony agreed to let him live for free in Tony’s rental property on North Lopez Street in New Orleans in exchange for upkeep on the apartments there.
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