Man Who Pleaded Guilty in Homicide of 92-Year-Old Fires Attorney, Files Motion to Withdraws Guilty Plea

If accepted, Peter Thao may be eligible for the death penalty again, the judge said

A man who previously pleaded guilty to killing a 92-year-old woman found in her National City apartment fired his attorney in court and filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea, delaying the sentencing. 

Peter Thao, 26, previously pleaded guilty to one count of murder and one count of residential burglary. He was initially charged with first-degree murder with a special circumstance in the death of Maria Rivera, 92. 

On Wednesday, Thao was scheduled to be sentenced to 31 years to life as a result of his plea deal. 

At first, he attempted to withdraw his plea through his attorney, Prosecutor C.J. Mody said. When Judge Ana Espana denied that motion, he requested to represent himself -- a request that was granted -- and tried to withdraw his guilty plea again, while representing himself. 

Judge Espana set a Sept. 25 date to file the motion and hear the motion. 

At this point, Mody said, Thao's guilty plea still stands. 

However, if the motion to withdraw the plea is granted, Mody said, the entire case will start over. That means that the special circumstance attached to his initial charges, which made Thao eligible for the death penalty, would come back on the table. 

If the motion is denied, the guilty plea will stand, and he will be sentenced to the 31 years to life. 

National City Police said they found Rivera in her D Street apartment on Oct. 22, 2016.

When officers began investigating, they determined the residence had been burglarized before Rivera's death.

Thao was arrested and charged in her death after an investigation.

Police declined to comment on what evidence linked Thao to the crime but said they found the evidence inside his home. They also confiscated his car.

Authorities do not believe there are any outstanding suspects, but the investigation is ongoing.

The homicide is believed to be random.

Editor's note: a previous version of this story stated that Peter Thao had been granted a change in plea. The judge set a date for that motion to be heard. The decision will be made on Sept. 25. 

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