A Southern California father of four pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of murder and kidnapping after his wife's body was discovered in the trunk of the family car and an Amber Alert was issued for his children, prosecutors said.
Daniel Diego Perez, 43, 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.
Perez's bail has been set at $1.4 million, and a judge issued a protective order requiring him to stay away from his children.
He is charged with one count of murder and four counts of kidnapping.
Perez allegedly killed his 39-year-old wife, Erica, on or about Dec. 5, prosecutors said.
Her body was discovered Dec. 10 stuffed in the trunk of a car that was parked near the family’s Montebello home. Police issued a statewide Amber Alert and Perez was located in El Cajon on Thursday.
He was arrested near Santee following a police pursuit and standoff. His four children, who were in the car, were recovered safely.
If convicted, Perez faces up to life in state prison.
"It was a matter of self-defense. She attacked him with a knife," said Eber Bayona, an attorney for Perez.
Bayona would not say how Erica Perez died, but he did say his client tried to to protect himself when she died.
Relatives said both parents had extramarital affairs and had a tumultuous relationship.
The NBC4 I-Team uncovered court records from 2011 that show a conviction for Erica Perez for allegedly stabbing her husband.
Daniel Perez's family said he lived with a woman who had multiple boyfriends, but was incapable of killing her.
A cause of death for Erica Perez has not been released.
Perez remains in the Los Angeles County jail's hospital ward.
His attorney said his client's on suicide watch.
Outside court, Billie Holguin, Perez's aunt, said he was a good man, a good husband, and a good father.
"He loves his children," she said.