SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A man accused of strangling his estranged wife, then driving her body to police headquarters in his pickup truck, was ordered Thursday to stand trial for murder.
Americus De Orenday, 44, is charged in the death last September of 40-year-old Mirella De Orenday. He faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted.
The couple had been married nine years but separated earlier in the year, said Deputy District Attorney Leonard Trinh. The defendant, who lived in Bay Terraces, had taken out a restraining order against his wife and won custody of their 8-year-old daughter and 7-year-old twins, according to the prosecutor.
The victim's 17-year-old daughter from a previous relationship, Leslie Gutierrez, testified during a preliminary hearing Thursday that her mother and the defendant argued often during their marriage, mostly about money but also about how to raise three young children they had together.
Gutierrez said her mother eventually moved out of the family home and starting dating a co-worker at a fast-food restaurant.
The night of Sept. 21, Gutierrez said she and her mother were making dinner when the defendant came by with the three children, who they hadn't seen in almost a month.
"He (the defendant) asked my mom to step outside," Gutierrez testified. "She looked nervous. I told her not to go. I was worried from the moment she stepped out."
Gutierrez said she immediately called police when she couldn't locate her mother or the defendant. Officers took a missing persons report but couldn't find the two, Trinh said.
The prosecutor said the defendant was seen entering a Walmart in National City about 8 p.m. on Sept. 23, where he purchased a garden hose.
About five hours later, he showed up at police headquarters at 14th Street and Broadway and flagged down officers, and his wife's body was found behind the driver's seat in his yellow pickup truck. An autopsy determined the woman had been strangled.
The hose was extending out of the exhaust pipe of De Orenday's truck into a back window of the cab, leading police to believe that he might have planned to commit suicide before changing his mind.
San Diego police homicide Detective Christopher Leahy testified Thursday that the couple's daughter told him that her father asked her if she wanted to see her mother as they approached the victim's apartment the night she disappeared.
Leahy said the child told him her father responded, "If I go in there, I just might have to kill the guy your mom's been dating, and kill your mom, too."
The couple's son told the detective that his father was angry and said "Maybe I'll kill your mother."
The detective said officers found notes about first-degree murder and manslaughter during a search of the defendant's apartment.
Following the preliminary hearing, Judge Louis Hanoian ruled that enough evidence was presented for De Orenday to stand trial. A Superior Court arraignment was set for Jan. 29.