Niles murder suspect gets trial date

Published 2:20 pm Tuesday, December 5, 2023

NILES — The man charged in the shooting death of a Niles man at his North 12th Street home in late September is headed to trial next spring after the conclusion of a preliminary hearing Tuesday in Berrien County Trial Court. 

Jamie Phillip Perry, 29, of St. Louis, Missouri, faces four felony charges in connection with the Sept. 30 shooting death of Luke James Botica, 28, of Niles. He is charged with open murder, being a felon in possession of a firearm and two counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. 

Berrien County Trial Judge Jennifer Smith bound Perry over for trial Tuesday on the four felony charges after stating that she found probable cause that Perry had committed the crimes. She went over the evidence presented including witness testimony and the autopsy report. She also noted that Perry had a previous felony conviction for burglary in Missouri. 

The next court dates in the case are Jan. 24 for a case conference, Feb. 26 for a status conference and March 13-15 for the jury trial. Perry remains in jail on $2 million cash or surety bond. 

The Perry hearing began Oct. 17 and was continued on Oct. 24, Nov. 28 and Tuesday. The hearing had been delayed since Oct. 24 when Perry fired his public defender Carri Briseno and said he would defend himself. Perry reversed himself Tuesday and agreed to let Chief Public Defender Scott Sanford represent him. 

Tuesday, two people testified who were at the Botica residence in the 1200 block of North 12th Street on the north side of Niles on Sept. 30. Michael White lives across the street from Botica and also testified Oct. 17 while Benjamin Conner described himself as Botica’s best friend. 

Conner said he was at the Botica home that evening before the shooting took place. He said he was introduced to Perry and smoked marijuana and drank beer with Botica and Perry before going home. He said he didn’t find out that Botica had been shot and killed until days later. 

Conner said he had a key to Botica’s house, but just let himself in the side door that night where he was met with Botica holding a gun which he said Botica had never done before.  

“Luke acted different that day, he was in a show off mode,” Conner said. “When I came in the door, he said he almost shot me so that (Perry) could hear. My educated guess is that is why he acted differently … Normally he was calm and chill.” 

Conner said he saw two guns on a coffee table and Botica said one was his and one was Perry’s and didn’t sense any tension between Botica and Perry. “When I left, the vibe was awesome,” he said. “I wish I had stayed, maybe Luke would still be alive.” 

White said he met Perry earlier on Sept. 30 when Botica brought him by after picking Perry up at the train station. White, who is hard of hearing, said he got the impression Perry and Botica didn’t know each other well. He said Botica told him Perry owed him $7,000 and was going to help Botica start a marijuana grow operation. 

White came by after Conner left. He said Perry had a gun in the waistband of his pants and the three were talking, eating pizza and smoking and drinking most of the evening. He said he wasn’t paying attention to what Perry and Botica were doing until he heard raised voices, saw Botica put up his hands and Perry shooting him.