ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Police officers found Tony Peralta earlier this month sitting on a curb not far from the convenience store in a small southeastern New Mexico community where he borrowed a cellphone — so he could call 911 and confess to killing his landlord 15 years earlier.
Sweating and taking puffs from his cigarette, he told them he’s tired of covering it up, tired of living with the lie and tired of being overwhelmed by guilt. He agreed to take the officers to where he buried the body before standing up and volunteering to be cuffed.
Police in Roswell released the 911 recording and nearly an hour of officer body camera video in response to a records request filed by The Associated Press. The May 1 footage shows Peralta repeatedly thanking the officers for picking him up.
“I confess, man. I confess. I don’t want to live life anymore without confessing,” he said while sitting in an interview room at police headquarters.
The uniformed officers and detectives who talked with Peralta peppered him with questions about when the killing happened, how he did it and why. Peralta kept answering that he didn’t know or didn’t remember, acknowledging that he had been drinking “a lot” the day he called 911.
Peralta, 37, was arraigned Tuesday on a charge of first-degree murder but did not attend the hearing. He pleaded not guilty to the charge through his public defender, Ray Conley, who declined to comment after the hearing. Conley has said he will ensure Peralta’s due process is respected as the case moves through court.
A judge on Tuesday also set Peralta’s trial for October but said that date could change.
At times, the authorities had asked if Peralta was making up the story and leading them on a goose chase since he wasn’t providing many details, other than saying he had killed someone a long time ago.
“There’s a dead body in there, dude!” he told one officer while in the back of a patrol car parked in front of the home where he once was a tenant of 69-year-old William Blodgett. Peralta said he’d feel better once the body was found.
Investigators said they obtained a search warrant and found a boot, bones and dentures after removing plywood floorboards from a detached room on the side of the house.
The dentures were compared with Blodgett’s dental records — obtained in early 2009 after he was reported missing — and that led to a positive identification, according to police.
A tearful Peralta told police he didn’t know why he had killed Blodgett. At one point, police video shows him putting his head down onto a table during an interview and sobbing.
Peralta told police he decided to come forward because “his heart hurts” and that he thought about it every day. He told an officer that Blodgett was a good man and that he took his life for no reason while high on methamphetamine.
“I don’t have an excuse,” he told police. “A lot of people have an excuse. I don’t have one.”
Blodgett’s girlfriend and family had not seen him since late December 2008. She told police that Peralta, who was considered a suspect by police early on, allegedly had some sort or argument or fight with Blodgett, who had tried to evict him.
Authorities at the time had talked to Blodgett’s family, friends and neighbors and visited the home the two men shared, which appeared to have been abandoned with personal belongings still in place. Police found no immediate signs of foul play and Blodgett’s vehicle was still there, according to the original missing person report.
Detectives would periodically drive by the house but never spotted anyone. They also brought a dog trained to sniff for bodies to the property but found nothing.
Police said the case went cold after investigators exhausted all leads until Peralta’s 911 call.
Associated Press writer Rio Yamat in Las Vegas, Nev., contributed to this report.