Testimony continues in case of Coachella carjack killing
Separate juries hearing evidence against the two men during the same trial
A witness described being shot and carjacked today in the trial of a man charged with attacking him and killing another man in an alleged crime spree in the Coachella Valley.
Walter Garrett testified in the trial of Carlos Contreras and Daniel Cervantes, both 34, who face murder and other charges stemming from the May 7, 2008, shooting death of 55-year-old Daniel Kuzawa, along with special circumstance allegations of murder in commission of a robbery, kidnapping and carjacking.
Both men, who could face the death penalty, are also charged in an alleged two-week crime spree. Contreras is charged with attempted murder in the attack on Garrett.
Separate juries are hearing the evidence against the two men during the same trial.
Garrett testified that he was sleeping in his pickup truck near Dillon Road and Vista Del Sur in Coachella on May 3, 2008, when a Hispanic man shot him twice.
"He only left me with what I had on ... he kept saying, `Get out of the car, get out of the car,"' Garrett said.
He said the man, who he didn't know, took his truck, his cell phone and his wallet. He crawled to the side of the road, where a motorist eventually saw him.
"I was trying to flag down anyone who would help me," he said.
Investigators noted similarities between the attack on Garrett and Kuzawa's murder. They came to suspect a connection because .380-caliber casings were left at both scenes, according to the prosecution.
Deputy District Attorney Manny Bustamante said in his opening statement last month that for about two weeks in May 2008, Cervantes and Contreras "embarked on a crime spree ... and during that crime spree, both as major participants, they chose that the death of Daniel Kuzawa would be a brutal and a violent one."
Kuzawa was found by a field worker. He had been shot in the left temple and middle of his chest on the dirt shoulder of Pierce Street south of Airport Boulevard in Thermal, the prosecutor said. His wrists and neck were bound with electrical cable.
Bustamante said Cervantes held a gun, while Contreras tied up Kuzawa in his own truck. Kuzawa repeatedly pleaded with the men, saying "`Don't kill me,"' he said.
The men left Kuzawa on the side of Pierce Street. Kuzawa's credit card was later used at a Shell gas station in Coachella. Surveillance video from a Fastrip station in Coachella, where an ATM transaction was traced, showed Kuzawa's truck pulling up to the pumps. Cervantes, who was driving, got out to speak to Contreras, who was driving another vehicle, Bustamante said.
When Contreras was arrested the night of May 7, he had Kuzawa's wallet, a round of ammunition and a credit card belonging to a man he allegedly shot a few days before, the prosecutor said. Contreras also had gunshot residue on his hands.
A search of Contreras' parents' home in Coachella, where he lived, turned up an ATM receipt from the Fastrip station and spools of cable of the type used to bind Kuzawa, Bustamante said.
Under questioning, Cervantes admitted having stolen credit cards, driving Kuzawa's truck and being present during his murder, "but he attempts to minimize his role," Bustamante said.
One of Cervantes' attorneys, John Hemmer, told jurors his client was a "reluctant participant" in the events relating to Kuzawa. He asked jurors to "keep an open mind" when hearing evidence about where the defendants' cell phones were found and calls they allegedly made to each other.
He asked the jury to "listen very carefully" to an interview with Cervantes.
One of Contreras' attorneys, Gail O'Rane, asked jurors to "use your common sense and keep an open mind," saying there was doubt about who killed Kuzawa.
She contended a carjacking linked to the alleged two-week crime spree occurred while Contreras was in custody.
"So what that tells you is crimes are being committed after Mr. Contreras is in custody," she said.
O'Rane said there was doubt about Contreras' involvement in the attack on Garrett.
Cervantes is also accused of robbing a man and his friend at gunpoint and tying them up in a home on Calle Monterey in La Quinta on May 4, 2008. He allegedly made off with guns, a wallet, a money clip, gems and the homeowner's Porsche, according to the prosecution.
On April 28, 2008, Contreras allegedly robbed Sandra Jaramillo while she was sitting in her car in Palm Desert. He allegedly took her money, rings and driver's license, and drove her around in her vehicle.
Bustamante said Contreras asked Jaramillo her race and, when she said she was Hispanic, he called someone on his cell phone and told them he couldn't go through with the plan because "she's one of us."
He dropped off Jaramillo in the Thermal area and threatened to kill her if she looked back, Bustamante said. The vehicle was later found abandoned in Coachella.
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