Photo from Pixabay.
Photo from Pixabay.

A young man accused of fatally beating a 78-year-old Riverside woman during a home invasion robbery is due in court Tuesday.

Sixto Jesus Garcia Pena, 19, of Palm Springs was arrested last Wednesday following a Riverside police investigation into the death of Denise Irene Wong.

Pena is charged with first-degree murder, with special circumstance allegations of killing in the commission of a robbery, killing in the commission of a burglary and inflicting torture.

The defendant is being held without bail at the Robert Presley Jail and is slated to make his initial court appearance Tuesday mornig at the Riverside Hall of Justice.

Pena was located at the Imperial County Jail, where he was being held in an unrelated attempted vehicle theft case, according to the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office. Riverside police detectives served an arrest warrant there, then transferred him to the downtown Riverside detention center.

Pena allegedly killed Wong in her single-story house in the 1200 block of East Manfield Street, near Masters Avenue, on Jan. 6.

“Denise was a loving mother, grandmother, sister, friend and a good and kind person,” Riverside police Chief Larry Gonzalez said last week. “A 50-year resident of Riverside, she also loved her city and her community. We are shocked and heartbroken over her passing.

“We will always remember her warmth, generosity and smile,” he said. “We take heart in knowing she lived a life filled with love, faith and devotion to her family.”

Patrol officers were called to the victim’s home after her loved ones requested a welfare check when Wong didn’t respond to phone calls. She was found dead from injuries inflicted a few hours earlier, according to Riverside police Officer Ryan Railsback, who alleged that Pena accessed the residence by breaking out a rear window.

“Officers observed some items … out of place and consistent with a burglary,” Railsback said, adding that the victim’s car had been stolen.

Detectives confirmed the sedan was involved in a hit-and-run collision in Indio a few hours after the break-in. Indio police impounded the abandoned vehicle, and homicide investigators went to the impound yard, collecting evidence from the car that helped them identify Pena as the alleged assailant, Railsback said.

Three days later, with the help of the county’s Gang Impact Team, they confirmed Pena had been arrested in Imperial County, and arrangements were made for the transfer.

District Attorney Mike Hestrin described Wong’s death as a “horrific murder,” and last week, he thanked Riverside police and the Gang Impact Team for their “great work … and how quickly they were able to determine the whereabouts of the suspect.”

Pena is not a documented gang member. However, the GIT assists all agencies countywide anytime a murder is involved.

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