21 years to life for man who stabbed girlfriend to death and set their Clairemont home on fire

SAN DIEGO - A man who fatally stabbed his longtime girlfriend in bed, then set fire to their Clairemont home with her two daughters and another occupant inside, was sentenced today to 21 years to life in state prison.

Anthony Elias Estrada, 44, pleaded guilty last month to second-degree murder and arson. The defendant had previously pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in the death of 46-year-old Margaret Pappas.

"My mother was the glue that once held our family together," said one of the victim's daughters, Brenda Gould, in a letter read by Deputy District Attorney Dan Link.

Gould said she still fears the defendant and that no sentence is "good enough" for Estrada.

"The betrayal still lives in our hearts," Gould wrote.

Defense attorney Frank Barone said Estrada told a probation officer that he was "deeply sorry" for Pappas' family and for their loss.

Judge Michael Smyth handed down the stipulated sentence, noting the "inexplicable cruelty and violence" associated with the murder.

According to testimony at a preliminary hearing last year, Estrada and Pappas, a special education teacher's aide, lived at the home on Huron Avenue with her two daughters and the boyfriend of one of the daughters.

Early on Feb. 6, 2012, Estrada stabbed Pappas once in the chest and twice in the head, then covered her body with a pile of clothes on a bed.

The defendant let two pet birds go, then started three fires, including one in a rear bedroom and another in the living room, then left the residence,
Link said.

Firefighters found Estrada's girlfriend of 14 years in the same bedroom where one of the fires was put out about 5 a.m. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Estrada walked to Clairemont High School and made some admissions to officials there.

Peter Altomare, a school administrator, testified that Estrada walked up about 7 a.m. and asked him if he was a police officer.

"He said, `I just killed my girlfriend,"' Altomare testified, noting that Estrada said he was "tired of running."

Brenda Gould testified that she woke up to the smell of smoke and tried to get out of her room but had to force the door open because someone had blocked it with a chair.

She said Estrada was "slow and retarded" and had been acting strange in the days leading up to her mother's murder, including saying people were watching them and exhibiting signs of paranoia.

Gould said the family tried to take Estrada to the hospital, but he refused.

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