An Oceanside woman who allegedly attacked and fatally stabbed her neighbor as he returned home from walking his dog on the morning of his 45th birthday pleaded not guilty to a murder charge Monday.
Jennifer Mendoza Ramos, 22, faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of killing Jefferson Middle School physical education teacher Chad Danielson in a seemingly random attack in his front yard in the 500 block of Garfield Street.
Oceanside police spokesman Tom Bussey said patrol officers arrived shortly before 8 a.m. April 10 to find Danielson gravely wounded and the assailant -- initially described by witnesses as a large, long-haired man -- gone.
Medics took the victim to Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, where he was pronounced dead about an hour later.
Examinations of crime-scene evidence linked Ramos to the slaying, Bussey said, adding that further investigation confirmed that she was "the sole suspect involved in this murder and (had been) unknown to Danielson."
"Although a (woman), Ramos' appearance resembles that of the suspect description provided by witnesses," the spokesman said last month.
Ramos was arrested without incident at her home in the 1300 block of Division Street, several blocks from the victim's residence, he said.
Detectives have identified no clear motive for the killing, according to Bussey.
Ramos is being held without bail and is due back in court Aug. 6.
The victim is survived by his wife of 20 years, Joy; 14-year-old daughter Elizabeth; and 12-year-old son Oliver.
Danielson's family released a statement praising him as a "kind, gentle and beloved family man" who was "tragically murdered on the morning of his birthday, with a table full of unopened birthday presents waiting for him to celebrate with his family."
"It's a random and senseless act that shattered an extremely close-knit family, a large and loving extended family, and is a profound loss for all who knew and loved him -- including his students, parents, fellow teachers and the greater Oceanside community," they wrote.
Danielson was also described by Dr. Julie Vitale, superintendent of the Oceanside Unified School District, as an "incredible teacher at Jefferson Middle School, who worked hard to develop meaningful relationships with his students."