Kern County’s latest homicide investigation may very well be linked to another murder, a high profile case we’ve covered extensively.

Sheriff’s department homicide detectives were very familiar with 24-year-old Mariano Perez long before they showed up to investigate his death.

They’d previously put together a case under the theory that Perez murdered an elderly prominent business man in broad daylight this past spring. Ultimately 11 out of 12 jurors found Perez not guilty of that crime. It seemed like things were looking up for him.

But less than a month after his release-the same investigators who once called him a murderer are now looking for his killer.

“I never expected this to happen, this is the last news I ever expected to  hear.” Deputy Public Defender Lexi Blythe said she is taken aback by the news that the man she worked so hard to free is now dead. 

“He was finally home with his family, he was there for Thanksgiving, and he finally had that chance to be reunited. This is the most tragic thing that could’ve happened given the circumstances,” said Blythe. 

Blythe spoke with us several times in recent months, advocating for Mariano Perez’s innocence. She always maintained the case against him in the murder of wealthy grape grower 84-year old Jakov Dulcich was bogus and that law enforcement arrested him after minimal investigation.
“The jury believed him and that was the reason why he was released because the jury truly believed him that he did not commit this crime,” said Blythe. 

After getting the rare 11 to 1 for acquittal verdict, prosecutors dropped the charges and Perez was sent home on November 5th. Blythe says he was in good spirits and never seemed to fear for his safety. Sheriff’s officials have released very few details about his death-other than saying his body was found off a stretch of Highway 155 just outside Delano and he had obvious traumatic injuries. After his body was discovered, homicide detectives were called to takeover the investigation

Blythe doesn’t want to speculate if his death could be related to the murder of Jakov Dulcich, but she maintains what she told us months ago: Dulcich’s real killer is still out there and needs to be found. 

“I do think that it’s very important that the investigation continue not only for the (Dulcich) family but also for the community because it has not been concluded yet,” said Blythe. 

Detectives and prosecutors have never said what they thought Perez’s motive could have been for killing Dulcich. One of the more memorable parts of Perez’s trial was when an eyewitness to the shooting looked at Perez in court and said he was not the shooter.

There is currently a $30,000 reward offered for information regarding the murder of Jakov Dulcich.

If you have any information on the murder investigation of Jakov Dulcich or Mariano Perez you’re urged to call KCSO at 861-3110 or Secret Witness at 322-4040.

KCSO did not return calls for this story.