Man pleads guilty to stabbing girlfriend

SAN DIEGO - A 44-year-old man who fatally stabbed his longtime girlfriend in bed, then set fire to their Clairemont home with her daughters and another occupant inside, pleaded guilty Thursday to second-degree murder and arson.

Anthony Elias Estrada, who had previously pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, will be sentenced to 21 years to life in prison at a June 4 hearing.

According to testimony at a preliminary hearing last year, Estrada and 46-year-old Margaret 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, said Deputy District Attorney Dan Link.

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."

The victim's daughter, 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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