INDIO, Calif.- - A man pleaded not guilty today to murdering his mother, who was set on fire in Indio and died a month later of burns over more than 50 percent of her body.
Israel Guardado-Ramirez, 36, is accused of setting fire to Francisca Ramirez, 61, of North Shore, on Jan. 26 at the loading dock outside the Mathis Brothers furniture store where she worked.
Prosecutors initially charged the defendant with attempted murder and torture in January, but he now faces charges that could make him eligible for the death penalty.
In addition to a murder count, prosecutors added a felony count of mayhem and four special circumstance allegations: committing an intentional murder, committing a murder that was especially heinous or cruel, committing a murder in the commission of mayhem and committing a murder in the commission of torture.
A decision on whether to pursue capital punishment is pending.
Shortly after Ramirez was taken to the hospital, she identified her son as the suspect, police said. Guardado-Ramirez then walked into the Riverside County jail in Indio and turned himself in, according to Indio police Sgt. Daniel Marshall.
Guardado-Ramirez, who is being held on $1 million bail, allegedly used "some type of accelerant'' to set her on fire following an argument involving a child custody issue, according to Marshall.
In a declaration filed with the court, Indio police Detective Jesse Marin said the defendant, who was living out of his car at the time, traveled to Indio "with the purpose of `settling matters' with family members, which included his mother.''
Though the exact nature of the custody dispute between Guardado-Ramirez and his mother remains unclear, family members have said that the defendant has a teenage daughter.
He's due back in court March 9 for a felony settlement conference.
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