A man accused of stabbing his live-in girlfriend with a pair of cutting shears, then setting two fires in their Clairemont home while three others were sleeping, pleaded not guilty Thursday to murder and arson charges and was ordered held without bail.
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Anthony Elias Estrada faces 34 years to life in prison if convicted in the death of 46-year-old Margaret Pappas.
"Obviously, the family is devastated," Deputy District Attorney Dan Link said outside court. "The process has just begun, and trying to get a grasp on losing their mother at this stage is almost impossible."
Link told Judge David Szumowski that Estrada and Pappas, who had been dating 14 years, lived at the home on Huron Avenue with her two daughters and the boyfriend of one of the daughters.
Early Monday morning, Estrada stabbed Pappas once in the chest and twice in the head, then covered her body with clothes on the bed, Link alleged.
The defendant put two pet birds outside before starting two fires -- one in a rear bedroom and another in the living room -- and left the home, the prosecutor alleged.
The fires did not fully engulfed the house, and the other residents were able to escape safely, Link said.
Firefighters found the victim -- a special-education teacher's aide -- in the same bedroom where one of the blazes was extinguished just after 5 a.m. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Estrada, 41, walked to Clairemont High School and made some admissions to public officials there, Link said.
Police did not disclose a possible motive, but Link said additional charges are possible.
Estrada had been scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday but was confined to a safety cell.
A status conference was set for Feb. 16 and a preliminary hearing for Feb. 24.
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