Pool Serviceman Accused of Killing Woman, 93, to Stand Trial on Murder Eds: SUBS lede to update with latest info. Case INF2102131. The Riverside County

City News Service

(CNS) – A 59-year-old self-employed pool serviceman accused of killing of a 93-year-old woman in Palm Desert must stand trial on murder, a judge ruled Friday.

Benjamin Briones of Thousand Palms was charged with one felony count each of murder, burglary and forging a signature, according to court records. He additionally faces a special-circumstance allegation of committing murder for financial gain and in the commission of a robbery.

Benjamin Briones
Benjamin Briones

The charges stem from the suspicious death of Jean Grace Willrich reported Nov. 30, 2021.

During a preliminary hearing Friday at the Larson Justice Center in Indio, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Investigator Gustavo Castaneda testified that Briones’ was Willrich’s former pool cleaner and was terminated after they had a disagreement over what she paid him.

Castaneda said that when the new guy who had been servicing her pool for about three years went to her home, one day later than usual on Nov. 30, 2021, he noticed that her blinds were open and a water hose was running on the east side of her home, so he knocked on the door but no one answered.

It was later discovered that a check had been taken from Wilrich’s home and deposited at an ATM machine at the Albertson’s in Palm Desert, a few miles away, Castaneda testified. Briones was identified as the suspect due to video surveillance footage outside the Albertson’s and outside of Willrich’s home that showed a pool truck and the same guy exiting it.

Briones was arrested Dec. 3, 2021, during a traffic stop and subsequently interviewed at the Palm Desert sheriff’s station, Castaneda testified. Briones allegedly told Castaneda that he had been planning to confront Willrich for over a week and eventually went to her home on a ruse that he was going to fix her toilet.

“Mr. Briones stated that she initially let him in and that eventually, when he started looking around, a confrontation started and that’s when he proceeded to assault Ms. Willrich,” Castaneda testified. “Mr. Briones explained to us how he punched her, choked her and eventually got on top of her. He continued to punch her, hit her with both open and closed fists because she wouldn’t stop screaming. Eventually, when she stopped moving, he got up and grabbed the checks and left.”

At the end of the preliminary hearing, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Anthony Villalobos ruled that there was sufficient evidence to warrant a trial for Briones on all charges and a post-preliminary hearing arraignment was set for July 10.

Willrich was found dead at her home in the 77000 block of Michigan Drive in Palm Desert after the sheriff’s department responded to the suspicious death report on Nov. 30, 2021, according to Sgt. Ed Baeza. Deputies arrived to find Willrich with signs of trauma to her body consistent with homicide.

Briones was arrested near the intersection of Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra drives in Rancho Mirage, according to inmate records. He remains held at the John Benoit Detention Center in Indio without bail.

He has no prior convictions recorded in Riverside County.

Copyright 2023, City News Service, Inc.

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