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Pool man charged in the killing of elderly Palm Desert woman pleads not guilty

A Thousand Palms man charged with the homicide of a 93-year-old Palm Desert resident pleaded not guilty in court on Thursday. A felony settlement conference has been set for December 20th. Briones is being held on no bail.

Investigators say Benjamin Briones, 59, killed Jean Grace Willrich in her home in late November.

The homicide happened on Tuesday, Nov 30 at 12:55 p.m. on the 77000 block of Michigan Drive inside the Palm Desert Country Club. Deputies found Willrich dead inside her home. Authorities said Willrich was found with "trauma consistent with a homicide".

According to the charging document, Willrich's murder was "for financial gain."

Court records obtained by News Channel 3 further outline the allegations against Briones. Investigators say Briones entered Willrich's Michigan Drive home on or about November 29 "with the intent to commit theft and a felony."

They say that Briones unlawfully signed a check to be drawn from Willrich's account in the amount of $7,650.

Alice McCormick-McLean, a resident of Palm Desert Country Club, said "she was glad" to hear a suspect in the case is charged.

She added, “a lot of us are resting easy" and "we just hope it never happens again. You know most of us in here we’re so grateful that they’re stepping up the police force. We do see, them."

Despite these developments, McCormick-McLean said she and others in her neighborhood still have questions about the case.

She said she and other residents in the neighborhood "were scrambling to figure out" what the exact cause of death was.

Briones was originally scheduled to be arraigned today, however, it was pushed back to Thursday morning. We'll have further updates on News Channel 3 at 5:00 and here on kesq.com.

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On Friday, the Riverside County Sheriff's Department announced that a 59-year-old Thousand Palms man was in custody in connection with the murder. Authorities said he is a self-employed pool serviceman.

Jail records show that the man was arrested near the intersection of Bob Hope Drive and Frank Sinatra Drive in Rancho Mirage at approximately 6:00 p.m.

The man has not been charged at this time but was booked into the John J. Benoit Detention Center in Indio on first-degree murder charges.

If anyone has information regarding this investigation, they are encouraged to call Investigator Castaneda with Central Homicide Unit at 951-955-2777 or Investigator Chua of the Palm Desert Sheriff Station at 760-836-1600.

This was the second murder to happen inside the community within three weeks. At this time, investigators have not connected the two crimes.

On Nov. 11, 47-year-old Edward Snyder was shot and killed near Tennessee and Oklahoma avenues.

Check Out: After 2 murders, HOA board member calls on police: ‘We need a lot more’

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Madison Weil

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