A man accused of killing his estranged wife and driving her body to San Diego Police headquarters appeared in court for the first time Thursday.
Americus DeOrenday, 44, has been charged with first-degree murder in connection with the death of his estranged wife, Mirella Alas DeOrenday, 40.
Early Tuesday morning, Americus flagged down detectives near the downtown headquarters, telling them his wife was dead and that her body was inside his Ford F-150 pickup truck.
When detectives searched the vehicle, they found Mirella’s body on the floor board behind the driver’s seat. Blood was found on the floor board and a garden hose was attached from the truck’s exhaust into the car’s rear window, officials said.
The San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office later determined that Mirella died from strangulation. Americus was arrested on suspicion of her murder.
During Americus’ arraignment Thursday, Deputy District Attorney Leonard Trinh shared details of the relationship between the defendant and victim, as well as the events leading to Mirella’s murder.
Trinh said the couple – who has three children together –married in 2004, but separated earlier this year. Americus then obtained a restraining order against Mirella and took primary custody of their children.
Trinh said Americus allegedly began using the kids as “leverage,” controlling when and under what conditions Mirella could see them. He also attempted to continue being intimate with Mirella, kissing and trying to have sex with her even though they were separated.
Recently, Trinh said Mirella had begun dating a co-worker, and this angered Americus. He would often allegedly drive by her workplace to stop her from seeing her new love interest.
On Saturday, Sept. 21, investigators say Americus dropped the children off at Mirella’s home for the weekend.
Once the kids were inside, Mirella went outside to briefly speak with her estranged husband, but never returned home.
After about 10 minutes, Trinh said the couple’s 17-year-old daughter grew worried and went outside to check on her parents, but Americus and Mirella were gone.
The teenager called police and officers were dispatched to Mirella’s home, but the mother was not immediately located.
By Sunday, Mirella still hadn’t returned home and failed to show up to work. Her daughter and employer called police again and filed a missing persons report.
On Monday, at around 8 p.m., Trinh said Americus was seen going into a Wal-Mart where he bought a garden hose.
About five hours later, Americus drove up to the San Diego Police headquarters and told detectives that his wife was dead inside his truck and that he wanted to turn himself in, Trinh said.
That garden hose Americus had purchased earlier was found by detectives duct-taped to the exhaust pipe of his truck, snaked into the passenger’s compartment of the vehicle.
As Trinh recounted the events in court, Americus stood still, listening with his head hanging down. He pleaded not guilty.
Dozens of family members and friends attended Thursday’s arraignment. One friend of the victim’s told NBC 7 that they still can’t believe Mirella is dead.
Americus’ preliminary hearing will begin in a couple of weeks. If he goes to trial and is convicted, he faces 25 years to life in prison.
He’s currently being held at San Diego Central Jail on $1 million bail.