A 19-year-old probationer accused of fatally beating a 78-year-old Riverside woman during a home invasion robbery pleaded not guilty Tuesday to murder and other charges.
Sixto Jesus Garcia Pena of Palm Springs was arrested last month following a Riverside police investigation into the death of Denise Irene Wong.
Along with the murder count, Pena is charged with special circumstance allegations of killing in the commission of a robbery, killing in the commission of a burglary and inflicting torture.
Pena was arraigned before Riverside County Superior Court Judge O.G. Magno, who scheduled a preliminary hearing for April 26 at the Riverside Hall of Justice.
Pena is being held without bail at the Robert Presley Detention Center.
Pena was located in mid-January at the Imperial County Jail, where he was awaiting adjudication of 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 detention center in downtown Riverside.
According to Riverside Police Department Officer Ryan Railsback, 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 Department Chief Larry Gonzalez said after Pena’s arrest.
“A 50-year resident of Riverside, she also loved her city and her community. We will always remember her warmth, generosity and smile. 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 that evening after her loved ones requested a welfare check because Wong didn’t respond to phone calls. She was found dead from injuries inflicted a few hours earlier, Railsback said.
Pena accessed the residence by breaking out a rear window, according to Railsback.
“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, according to Railsback.
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.
According to court records, Pena has prior convictions for child abuse, auto theft and receiving stolen property.
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