SAN DIEGO - A man accused of intentionally setting a fire in his Mira Mesa home, killing his mother and sister, must stand trial on murder charges that could lead to the death penalty if he's convicted, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Thongsavath Sphabmixay, 45, is charged with two counts of murder in the April 5 deaths of 69-year-old Bouakham Sphabmixay and 48-year-old Pamela Sphabmixay. The women died a day after they were overcome by smoke in the family's home in the 11200 block of Featherhill Lane.
In addition to murder, the defendant is charged with premeditated attempted murder and arson, with special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder by arson. District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis will decide later whether the defendant will face the death penalty or life in prison without parole if convicted.
The defendant lived at the residence with the victims and a male roommate. About 1:30 a.m. on April 4, the roommate noticed the smell of gasoline outside his bedroom door, said Deputy District Attorney Nicole Rooney.
"He (the roommate) opened his door and noticed the landing was on fire, which was blocking the only exit to the stairs out of the second story," the prosecutor told reporters at the defendant's arraignment.
Rooney said the roommate was able to go through the flames and jump down to a lower landing to escape.
As he was leaving, the roommate heard the victims -- who shared a bedroom -- open their door, scream and shut the door, according to the prosecutor.
Rooney said the roommate called for help to the defendant -- who was still in the house -- but he fled the scene.
San Diego police Detective Louis Maggi testified Wednesday that the defendant's DNA was on a gas can found outside the home and he had a lighter on him when he was arrested.
Maggi said the roommate told him that Sphabmixay argued and had conflicts with his mother and sister.
A fire investigator testified that the fire started in the east bedroom upstairs, near where a trail of gas had been poured.
Superior Court Judge Jay Bloom ruled that enough evidence was presented at the preliminary hearing for Sphabmixay to proceed to trial. A Superior Court arraignment was set for Nov. 26.