A 19-year-old from Palm Springs has been arrested in connection with the murder of a 78-year-old woman following a home invasion last week in Riverside.
Sixto Jesus Garcia Pena, 19, of Palm Springs was officially charged with the murder of Denise Irene Wong, 78.
The Riverside County District Attorney's office filed one count of first-degree murder and three special circumstance allegations – murder during the commission of a robbery, murder during the commission of a burglary, and torture.
The special circumstance allegations make the defendant eligible for the death penalty. District Attorney Mike Hestrin will make a decision on whether to seek the death penalty at a future date.
Officers were called for a welfare check at the Wong's home on the evening of Jan. 6, according to the Riverside Police Department.
Police said they were called by family members out from out of town who kept trying to reach Wong as she lived by herself and her family was worried that she was not returning any of their calls.
Officers arrived at Wong's home and found a broken window in the rear of the house. They also reported finding things out of place, consistent with a burglary.
Police then entered the home and found Wong. They also found that her vehicle had been stolen. Detectives were able to determine that there was indeed foul play.
Detectives later learned that Wong's vehicle was involved in a hit-and-run crash in the city of Indio that same day. The suspect fled from the area but the vehicle was impounded.
Detectives were able to collect enough evidence at both the murder scene and the crash scene to identify Pena as the suspect.
Authorities worked for days to locate Pena. On January 9, they learned that he had been arrested and booked into Imperial County jail for attempted car theft.
Pena has now been transferred to the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside. He is being held without bail.
The case is expected to be filed by the Riverside County Superior Court on Friday.
"This was a random act of cowardice to one of our more vulnerable community members that should have never happened. But now our focus turns to supporting the forthcoming prosecution and standing with the victim’s family in their pursuit of justice," said Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez.
A statement on behalf of the victim’s family:
“Denise Irene Wong was a loving mother, grandmother, sister, friend, and a good and kind person. A 50-year resident of Riverside, she also loved her city and her community. We are shocked and heartbroken over her passing. But, 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.
We want to thank the Riverside Police Department officers and detectives for the diligence and dedication they devoted to this matter. We also want to thank our friends and colleagues for the outpouring of support they have given us.
At this time, we need time and privacy to process our loss and to grieve our loved one. However, feel free to join our prayers for justice and peace.”
The investigation remains ongoing. Police did not release any other details of the murder at this time.
Those wishing to remain anonymous can email firstname.lastname@example.org or utilize the Riverside Police Department’s mobile app “Submit a Tip” feature while referencing report number 210000507.
Stay with News Channel 3 for continuing updates.