Trial proceedings may get underway Monday for a 20-year-old probationer accused of fatally beating a Riverside senior after breaking into her home.
Sixto Jesus Garcia Pena of Palm Springs was arrested in January 2021 following a Riverside police investigation into the slaying of 78-year-old Denise Irene Wong.
Pena is charged with first-degree murder, as well as special-circumstance allegations of killing in the commission of a robbery, killing in the commission of a burglary and inflicting torture.
Prosecutors have not yet announced whether they intend to seek the death penalty if the defendant is convicted.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge John Molloy is scheduled to hold a status hearing at the Riverside Hall of Justice Monday to determine if the prosecution and defense are ready for trial.
Pena is being held without bail at the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside.
He was located in mid-January 2021 at the Imperial County Jail, where he was awaiting adjudication of an unrelated attempted vehicle theft case, according to the District Attorney’s Office. Riverside police detectives served an arrest warrant there, then transferred him to the downtown Riverside jail.
According to Riverside police 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,” police Chief Larry Gonzalez said after Pena’s arrest.
The victim had been a resident of the city for five decades.
Patrol officers were called to Wong’s home that evening after her loved ones requested a welfare check because she hadn’t responded to phone calls. She was found dead from injuries inflicted a few hours earlier, Railsback said.
He alleged Pena accessed the residence by breaking out a rear window.
“Officers observed some items … out of place and consistent with a burglary,” the police spokesman 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 alleged 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.
According to court records, Pena has prior convictions for child abuse, auto theft and receiving stolen property.