Klapheke Death Case: Dyess airman guilty, sentenced for child endangerment

By Ariana Garza, Weekend Anchor/Crime & Courts Reporter, agarza@ktxs.com
POSTED: 10:14 AM Dec 24 2013   UPDATED: 3:47 PM Jan 27 2014
Christopher Perez
DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -

A military judge has sentenced Senior Airman Christopher Perez to three years confinement – along with calling for his dishonorable discharge from the Air Force – for his role in the death of 22-month-old Tamryn Klapheke.

On Friday, Perez was found guilty of three specifications of child endangerment and one specification of adultery. He was found not guilty of dereliction of duty. 

Tiffany Klapheke, Tamryn’s mother, remains in Taylor County Jail on child neglect charges. She allegedly had a relationship with Perez while her three daughters were reportedly being neglected.

The previous story:

The fate of a Dyess Air Force airman is now in the hands of a military judge.

The prosecution and the defense have rested in the case of Senior Airman Christopher Perez, who is facing court-martial proceedings as a result of a relationship he had with the mother of a 22-month-old child who died after allegedly being neglected.

Perez is charged with dereliction of duty, child endangerment and adultery under the Uniform Code of Military Justice in connection to Tamryn Klapheke’s death. The medical examiner who conducted the autopsy testified Thursday the manner of death was ruled as homicide by malnutrition and dehydration.

Tiffany Klapheke, the child’s mother, remains jailed in Taylor County and is facing child neglect charges.

“If he (Perez) had checked on them on Sunday, or even that Friday, he wouldn’t have seen the same children he saw when he moved in,” said Capt. Gammons, prosecutor in the case.

Gammons also described Perez as “self-absorbed “ and “narcissistic.” On the stand, Gammons said Perez called himself “the unluckiest man alive” after Tamryn’s death, while he was being interviewed by Abilene police.

Meanwhile, Perez’s defense noted that because a separate sexual assault case was being investigated prior to Tamryn Klapheke’s death, it wouldn’t have been wise for Perez to go into Tamryn’s room when her mother said “no.”

The previous story:

The father of deceased toddler Tamryn Klapheke was called to testify in military court Thursday during general court-martial proceedings for the Dyess Air Force Base airman who prosecutors identified as the mother’s live-in boyfriend.

Senior Airman Christopher Perez is charged with dereliction of duty, child endangerment and adultery under the Uniform Code of Military Justice in connection to the toddler’s death. The medical examiner who conducted the autopsy testified Thursday the manner of death was ruled as homicide by malnutrition and dehydration.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys have spent three days debating Perez’s role in the Klapheke home (i.e. whether he truly was a live-in boyfriend to the toddler’s mother, Tiffany Klapheke, and whether he ever assumed any childcare duties).

Thomas Klapheke was deployed overseas when Tamryn died. He testified Thursday he knew Perez was living with Klapheke during that time; however, he said he had no knowledge of the alleged affair until he heard about it through the media.

Edward Wilcock – a social worker with the Dyess Family Advocacy Center – testified the Klapheke’s had been investigated for medical neglect as far back as 2010. That was before Perez was allegedly living in the home and Wilcock said the Klapheke’s kept missing their daughters’ doctor’s appointments.

“I was always actively involved in their care,” Thomas said on the stand. He did acknowledge, however, that he had to be notified of the missed appointments.

Dyess Sgt. Matthew Jones – who was the first person inside the Klapheke home after Tiffany called 9-1-1 Aug. 28, 2012 to report Tamryn was unresponsive – testified the home smelled terrible.

“I threw my uniform away after washing it three times,” Jones said.

He described the smell as “overpowering” and subsequent witnesses claimed the house had an ammonia-type odor. He said when he entered the home, Tiffany was in hysterics on the kitchen floor holding Tamryn and screaming “bring her back” and “save my baby.”

Abilene Police Officer Randy Farmer testified most of the Klapheke home seemed to be in order until reaching the room Tamryn shared with her older sister, Taberlee. He said that room was worse than a lot of other homes he’s seen. Photographs showed soiled carpet and mattresses. He said some of Perez’s personal items (i.e. military dog tags) were also located in the master bedroom.

Officer David Walker – a civilian police officer serving at Dyess – testified Perez approached him at the scene of the Klapheke home on Aug. 28, 2012 and asked what was going on because a friend of his lived at the home. Walker said he asked Perez to return to his squadron, but the request was not considered an order. The base was later put on lockdown to locate Perez.

Abilene Police Det. Eric Vickers will likely be summoned back to testify Friday. In cross-examination, the defense realized his testimony would be more useful if he reviews the six-hour interview he did with Tiffany after she was arrested. He did testify to prosecutors that Tiffany was acting erratically at the scene and he immediately thought she had something to do with Tamryn’s death.

Special Agent Ray Soto of Dyess testified he could smell the ammonia-type odor even a few feet away from the Klapheke home when he arrived at the scene and the home was in “complete disarray.” He said the three Klapheke children had matted hair.

Tech Sgt. Stephen Gauche testified he has lived next door to the Klapheke’s since July 2012 but never saw Perez or any of the children.

Dr. Justin Smith – a pediatrician who saw the Klapheke children when they were removed from the home Aug. 28, 2012 – testified the surviving children had developmental delays when they arrived and their skin had formed an adhesive bond with their diapers that had not been changed for days. The diapers caused severe rashes and the injuries had to be treated as burns.

Dr. Jamye Coffman – medical director of the child abuse program at Cook Children’s Medical Center – testified previous appointments at the hospital had been missed and medical neglect became a concern prior to Tamryn’s death. She said the surviving children will likely not suffer permanent scarring from the intense diaper rashes.

A former Child Protective Services investigator testified Perez told him he felt he was keeping the children safe by being the only adult in the home while Tiffany would run errands or be away. Wilcock also testified Perez had an implied agreement to babysit the children on a regular basis – but the children were often in their bedrooms.

The defense argued Perez was more of a house guest than a live-in boyfriend to Tiffany or a father figure to the children. Based on an interview he conducted with Perez, Wilcock said Perez moved into the home after his deployment was cancelled over the summer of 2012 and he did not have a place to stay. Wilcock said Perez initially helped with the children, came to care for them and later developed a sexual relationship with Tiffany. He said Perez never assumed any diaper duties because he thought it was inappropriate for him to do so.

Based on the six-hour interview Tiffany did with Abilene police, the defense claimed Perez was never given a house key and the children were often locked in their rooms and he did not have access to them.

Because of the pending civilian case against Tiffany, Col. Donald Eller – the military judge – denied the defense’s request to grant Tiffany immunity in exchange for testifying. She will not be called as a witness.

After all prosecution witnesses testified Thursday, the defense asked Judge Eller to go ahead and find Perez not guilty of the child endangerment charge against him. Judge Eller denied that request for the time being but still must deliberate once both sides complete their case and make closing arguments.

The defense is expected to call two witnesses Friday. Court will re-convene at 9 a.m.