Probation supervisor maintains 14-year search for fugitive

After having been diagnosed with an incurable disease, a Los Angeles County probation supervisor who vigilantly kept watch over a fugitive for more than decade said she’s satisfied to have lived to see an arrest made in the case.

Nora Perez said she felt intense pressure to make sure Jose “Joe” Saenz, 37, was captured. Saenz, who is suspected in three LA slayings, was arrested on Nov. 22 in Mexico.

“I’ve been in contact with a few people that were very interested in seeing justice happen here and they are very happy and relieved,” Perez said.

Last year, Perez was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a debilitating neurological disease known to shorten life. But the diagnosis didn’t dampen her drive to find the man she’s known since he first entered the probation system almost 20 years ago as a teenaged tagger and gang member in East LA.

Since then, Saenz’s criminal reputation has grown.

He is the primary suspect in the July 25, 1998, murders of rival gang members Josue Hernandez and Leonardo Ponce. Saenz was also wanted in connection with the Aug. 5, 1998, kidnap, rape and murder of his girlfriend, Sigrieta Hernandez, who was the mother of his child. Saenz is thought responsible for the murder of reputed drug associate Oscar Torrez in North Whittier on Oct. 5, 2008.

After each crime, authorities said, Saenz fled to Mexico where it’s believed he had a support network.

“He’s interesting, how did he survive all these years? It’s a lot of behind the scenes things that probably happened involving street gangs and possibly cartels,” Perez said. “It’s the thing you see in movies, but it’s real life.”

Saenz was arrested Thanksgiving day by authorities in Guadalajara, Mexico, and returned to Los Angeles in the custody of the FBI the following night. He is being held without bail at the Metropolitan Detention Center Jail in downtown.

“You had a lot of different agencies working really hard at getting as much information as they could to lock down his location,” she said. “It took many, many years and it took a lot of people.”

On Tuesday, a judge ordered Saenz to be arraigned on Dec. 17 for three killings. He is being charged separately for the killing of Torrez; arraignment in that case is set for Jan. 8, 2013.

Perez’s career has been spent working to keep young people out of gang life, where violence is glorified.

Many times the magnitude of the task, coupled with her disease, combined to burdened her spirit. But today Perez says justice is being served and that removes the heavy weight she felt during the long search for Jose Saenz.

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