City Heights

San Diego Man Sentenced for Killing Wife Execution-Style

At least three people witnessed Fernando Avila shoot his estranged wife, police said

NBCUniversal, Inc.

A man accused of killing the mother of his two children on the day she intended to serve him with divorce papers learned his fate in court on Monday.

Julia Maria Serrano Avila, 29, was murdered in a shooting in December 2019. Her husband, 28-year-old Fernando Avila, was arrested as the sole suspect in the case. 

Avila later pleaded guilty to a first-degree murder charge and firearm allegation in connection to the case.

On Monday, Avila was sentenced to 35 years to life by a San Diego district court judge.

Julia Avila's father, Pablo Serrano, wasn't satisfied with the terms of Fernando Avila's sentence.

"Very unjust," Serrano said. "They caught him on camera, they got him on video, shooting her. And they just gave him 35 years?”

During sentencing on Monday, Avila apologized to Julia's family "for putting you through so much pain" and their children "for taking their mom away from them."

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. 

The victim's father describer her alleged killer as lazy and no good. NBC 7s Jackie Crea has the story.

San Diego police said at least three people witnessed the shooting. Violeta Marquez, who lives next door to the family, told NBC 7 that she first heard screams and called 911. Then, she witnessed Avila fire two shots at his wife

“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.”

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.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233. NBC 7's Catherine Garcia sits down with District Attorney Summer Stephan to discuss domestic violence resources available to victims.

Serrano said his daughter was shot in front of her two kids, and said the children have been going to therapy following the killing. They are now being taken care of by their grandmother, according to Serrano.

NBC 7 learned that Julia had filed for divorce in November 2019. She was planning on serving Avila with those papers, her father, Pablo Serrano, told NBC 7.

Contact Us