A man accused of killing the mother of his two children on the day she intended to serve him with divorce papers pleaded not guilty in San Diego court Monday.
Julia Maria Serrano Avila, 29, was killed in a shooting on Dec. 5 that was being investigated by San Diego police as a case of domestic violence. Her husband, 28-year-old Fernando Avila, was arrested as the sole suspect in the case.
Fernando Avila pleaded not guilty to a first-degree murder charge in court on Monday. He will be held without bail due to his flight risk as he owns a home in Mexico, according to the District Attorney's office.
Julia Avila was shot execution style on the street outside a City Heights pawnshop, the DA said, blocks from the home she lived in with the couple's two children.
San Diego police said at least three people witnessed the shooting. Violeta Marquez, who lives next door to the family, told NBC 7 she first heard screams and called 911. Then, she witnessed Fernando Avila fire two shots at Julia Avila.
“She sat on the sidewalk and that’s when I don’t know what he told her,” Marquez said. “And just like seconds, he shot her again.”
Fernando Avila stayed and held her before taking off on foot, Marquez said.
Witnesses said the couple was arguing before the shooting, which occurred just blocks from Rosa Parks Elementary School and the neighborhood's City Center.
Sgt. Michelle Velovich said the argument started inside their home and spilled into the street and eventually outside the pawnshop, which has no affiliation with either the suspect or victim.
It was not clear how much, if any, of the shooting the children witnessed but they were inside the home at the time. The children, identified neighbors to be between 8- and 12-years-old, were taken to stay with family members, SDPD said.
NBC 7 learned that Julia Maria Serrano Avila had filed for divorce from Fernando Avila on Nov. 25. She was planning on serving Fernando Avila with those papers on Thursday, her father, Pablo Serrano, told NBC 7.
San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan spoke with NBC 7 about domestic violence in November.
“It’s an awful reminder of the devastation of domestic violence that still is the number one killer for women across the United States. They’re killed by someone who’s supposed to love them,” Stephan said. “Please seek help, because one way or another, the violence will escalate. You can’t stay in a violent, threatening home.”
Friends and coworkers of Julia Avila created a GoFundMe page to help raise funds for her two children.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233. Please seek help.