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Seward woman convicted in slaying

| Saturday, May 12, 2012, 6:35 p.m.

Seward native Paulette Perry was convicted of first-degree murder Wednesday in the stabbing death of a gambler, leaving Perry's loved ones overwhelmed by grief and tears outside of a Nevada courtroom.

"The jury heard about only a very minute portion of her life," said Perry's mother, Mary Walker, of Seward, just moments after her daughter was convicted of robbing and killing Easton resident David Sygnarski at a Las Vegas hotel.

Walker said the jury in the case heard only a "slanted version" of Perry's existence, referring to a myriad of lurid trial testimony about Perry's struggles with drug addiction and prostitution.

"She is a wonderful person, a wonderful mother, a wonderful wife," a crying Walker said. "A very kind and intelligent woman."

As the verdict was read yesterday afternoon in the courtroom of Nevada District Judge John McGroarty, Perry stood with her back turned to the courtroom, her right arm flanked around defense attorney Andrew Myers.

Perry's two children, a girl and a little boy who appeared to be elementary school age, were in the courtroom for the verdict, as were other Perry family members.

The two children broke out in tears and sobs of grief as the guilty verdicts were read to charges of first-degree murder with use of a deadly weapon, robbery with use of a deadly weapon and conspiracy to commit robbery.

A calm and collected Perry then turned to her children and appeared to mouth the words "It's OK."

"We are disappointed with the verdict but we respect the jury's decision," said Perry's defense attorney, Andrew Myers.

Although Perry's family maintains that she is a kind and decent person, Nevada prosecutors portrayed the 34-year-old during her trial as a cold and calculating crack cocaine addict who manipulates men for her own benefit.

The jury found that on April 24, 2001, Perry — an acknowledged prostitute — lured Sygnarski to room 305 in the now defunct Maxim resort, located just off the Las Vegas Strip.

There, authorities said Perry and her boyfriend, Kenneth Grant, 35, robbed and stabbed Sygnarski 15 times in the neck. The Easton man's corpse was stuffed in garbage bags and placed under a hotel room bed.

Murder and robbery charges are still pending against Grant, who is a resident of Greensburg.

Helping prosecutors to secure the conviction was a litany of evidence against Perry, including video surveillance from the hotel. The video showed Grant going into the hotel room, then Perry and Sygnarski walking through the hotel lobby to the room.

The videotape never shows Sygnarski leaving. Perry and Grant are later shown on the video coming and going from the room with cleaning supplies.

The two were subsequently arrested in the summer of 2001 in Fresno, Calif.

Fresno is home to a plastic surgeon named Norio Takayama, who testified during the trial that he has given Perry thousands of dollars during a seven-year relationship. Perry later testified in her own defense, saying she met the doctor through an escort service in Texas.

On the witness stand, Perry told the jury that she met Sygnarski at a crack house and that she invited him to the hotel room to smoke crack. There, he attempted to rape her.

When Grant learned of this transgression, Perry said, Grant killed Sygnarski during a struggle.

Clark County prosecutor David Schwartz said he was pleased with the verdict, as was Sygnarski's sister, Joan Tepenhardt.

The prosecutor said Tepenhardt wasn't able to make it to the courtroom in time for the verdict, but prosecutors encountered her in a courthouse hallway moments after the verdict was read.

"We spoke to her in our office right after the verdict," Schwartz said. "She started crying. She was pleased with the outcome."

A sentencing phase of Perry's trial kicks off on Monday before the same jury that convicted her. The jury will sentence Perry only on the first-degree murder charge, and McGroarty will then sentence her at a later date on the robbery and conspiracy charges.

But even in a best-case scenario for Perry, she will be an elderly woman before she gets a chance at freedom.

On the murder count alone, Perry faces one of three potential sentences — life without parole, life with parole or a set term of 50 to 100 years.

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