California man accused of taking sons, engaging in standoff pleads not guilty in wife's death

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This Friday, Dec. 6, 2014 photo released by the Montebello Police Department, shows suspect Daniel Perez. Perez is accused of abducting his four sons and engaging police in a highway standoff. Perez has been booked into Montebello jail, about 15 miles east of Los Angeles, for investigation of his wife's death as well as kidnapping. Erica Perez was found dead in the trunk of another family vehicle on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Montebello Police Department)

This undated photo released by the California Department of Motor Vehicles shows Erica Perez, who had been missing from her Montebello home since Friday, Dec. 5, 2014. A Southern California man was arrested during a standoff on a freeway bridge, days after he vanished with his four sons and his wife, Erica Perez, who was found dead in the trunk of another vehicle belonging to the family on Wednesday. No charges have been filed against Daniel Perez but authorities say he is a person of interest in his wife's death and could also face child endangerment charges. (AP Photo/California Department of Motor Vehicles)

LOS ANGELES — A California man accused of killing his wife, abducting his sons and engaging police in a highway standoff acted in self-defense when his wife tried to stab him, his lawyer said Monday.

Attorney Eber Bayona said Daniel Perez previously was attacked by his wife in another knife incident, which led to her serving time in jail.

Bayona wouldn't say how the 43-year-old Daniel Perez defended himself in the latest incident or how Perez's wife was killed. However, he said Erica Perez wasn't stabbed.

Prosecutors also declined to comment on Erica Perez's cause of death.

Daniel Perez, an elementary school custodian, appeared in court Monday in shackles and pleaded not guilty to murder and kidnapping. His bail was set at $1.4 million.

According to investigators, Daniel and Erica Perez, along with their four sons, ages 6 to 11, disappeared Dec. 5 and were reported missing four days later. During the search last week, police found Erica Perez's body in the trunk of the family's Honda Accord about a half-mile from their Montebello home.

Authorities captured Daniel Perez the next day near Santee after a high-speed chase and a highway standoff. His children were in the car but were uninjured.

Eight members of Daniel Perez' family attended his arraignment Monday. Outside court, his aunt Billie Holguin addressed the media.

"My nephew is a good man, a good husband a father," she said. "He loved his children. ... Hopefully this will all be worked out."

"Our hearts go out to Erica's family," she added.

Superior Court Judge Renee Korn issued an order for Daniel Perez to have no contact with his children. She set a Jan. 12 court date to determine when his preliminary hearing will be held.

Daniel Perez wore a sleeveless uniform indicating he is being held in the jail hospital ward. Chains were wound around his upper body and connected to handcuffs. He held his hands clasped in front of him and did not speak during the hearing.

Police have said Daniel and Erica Perez had an unstable and at times violent marriage and officers had been called to the family home in the past because of disturbances.

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