A woman arrested last month after months on the run pleaded not guilty Thursday to working with her ex-husband to kidnap and kill a man whose body was found outside a business park in Carson, prosecutors said.
Maricela Mercado, 40, faces one count each of murder and kidnapping in the April 16 slaying of 32-year-old Jeffrey Appel of Las Vegas, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said in a news release.
Her ex-husband, 39-year-old Hawaii resident Roman Cerratos, is facing the same charges, along with a count of being a felon in possession of a firearm and special allegations that he personally used a handgun and knife in the crime, according to the DA’s office.
Appel was found stabbed and fatally shot in the front seat his car on the 400 block of East Carson Plaza Drive.
Investigators have not disclosed a motive, or said whether the suspects and victim knew each other.
A woman who works at a company administering substance abuse programs located in the business park where Appel’s body was found told KTLA she recognized him as one of their clients.
After the killing, Mercado and Cerratos allegedly escaped to Mexico with Mercado’s teenage daughter, Alora Benitez, triggering an Amber Alert.
The BMW the group was traveling in was found ditched by the border in San Ysidro days after the killing, but it took authorities several months to catch up with the suspects.
Cerratos was captured June 13 in Mexico and extradited back to the U.S., while his ex-wife and her daughter were deported back to America after entering Chihuahua illegally July 13, officials said.
The FBI took custody of Benitez to reunite her with family.
Mercado is scheduled to return to court Sept. 17 for a preliminary hearing, prosecutors said. Inmate records show she was being held on $2 million bail.
Cerratos’ next court appearance is set for Aug. 15, and his bond was set at $3 million, the booking records show.
Both defendants could face up to life in state prison if convicted as charged.