A 32-year-old worker at a La Quinta residential-care facility pleaded not guilty Monday to murder and torture charges stemming from the death of a patient whose body was found in a trash bin outside the facility.

The murder charge against Cristina Noelle Canimo, of Palm Desert, includes a special circumstance allegation of inflicting torture during the commission of a murder, making her eligible for the death penalty if the District Attorney’s Office opts to pursue it. Prosecutors allege she used a knife, box cutter, screwdriver and a hammer in the crime.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Harold Hopp appointed the Public Defender’s Office to represent Canimo following the departure of two private attorneys from the case.

The defendant remains housed in the Indio jail without bail, although Hopp said bail will be reconsidered at Canimo’s felony settlement conference scheduled for Dec. 30 at the Larson Justice Center in Indio.

Canimo was taken into custody at 3 a.m. Nov. 22, the day after the man’s body was found in a trash bin inside a gated community in the 43500 block of east Parkway Esplanade, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. The victim was later identified as Ronald Clarke, 87, who lived at the same residential care facility where Canimo worked and where Clarke’s body was found, sheriff’s officials said.

A motive for the killing remains a mystery.

The name of the board-and-care facility has not been officially released, but The Desert Sun reported that Sunbrook Residential Care at 43-574 E. Parkway Esplanade was visited by California Department of Social Services investigators the week of the murder regarding the death of one of its residents.

Sunbrook has been the subject of several evaluation and complaint investigation reports since 2015, the newspaper reported.

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