Montebello father pleads not guilty to murder and kidnapping
LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A Montebello father was charged Monday with murder and kidnapping for allegedly killing his wife and stuffing her body in the trunk of a car, then disappearing with four of his five children, sparking a statewide Amber Alert that ended with a freeway standoff in San Diego County.
Daniel Diego Perez’s attorney, however, said his client acted in self-defense.
Perez, 43, who was shackled and dressed in clothes issued by the jail’s hospital ward, pleaded not guilty to the single count of murder and four counts of kidnapping during his arraignment in downtown Los Angeles. He was ordered to remain jailed in lieu of $1.4 million bail.
He is due back in court Jan. 12, when a date will be sent for a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence for him to stand trial.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Renee Korn issued a protective order requiring him to stay away from his children if he is released. Korn cautioned Perez that he was not allowed to contact his children in any way, including electronically, other than through his attorney.
Prosecutors allege Perez killed his wife, 39-year-old Erica Perez, five days before her body was discovered Dec. 10 in the trunk of a car parked near the family’s Montebello home. The District Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the cause of death.
About half-dozen members of Perez’s family appeared in court and spoke with privately retained defense attorney Eber Bayona following the arraignment.
Bayona told reporters after the hearing that his client was defending himself, saying Erica Perez attacked him with a knife.
Perez was arrested following a standoff Thursday on a Santee-area freeway ramp.
Perez’s 2014 Toyota Camry was located by police in El Cajon thanks to a LoJack tracking device on the vehicle.
Police tried to stop the car, but Perez drove off, with four children in the vehicle. He stopped around 8:30 a.m. Thursday in the middle of the eastbound state Route 52 connector road to southbound state Route 67 in Santee.
Two of the children got out of the vehicle and ran to the safety of officers who were positioned behind Perez’s car. Perez remained in the vehicle for about an hour with two other children. The three got out of the car shortly before 10 a.m. and police tackled the struggling Perez and took him into custody.
The four boys, who were in the car with their father, ranging in age from 6 to 11 years old, have since been reunited with relatives, police said. A fifth child, Daniel, was named in the protective order. The defense attorney said he did not know Daniel’s age.
The Perez family had not been seen since Dec. 5, and relatives reported them missing earlier last week, telling authorities that the couple’s marriage was unstable and marred by domestic violence.
Perez faces up to life in prison if convicted, according to the District Attorney’s Office.