Trial begins for two accused in deadly carjacking
Separate juries will hear evidence during the same trial
Opening statements are scheduled today in the trial of two men accused in a crime spree that ended with the fatal shooting of an Indio man.
Carlos Contreras and Daniel Cervantes, both 34, are charged with murder, kidnapping and robbery in the May 7, 2008, death of 55-year-old Daniel Kuzawa, along with special circumstance allegations of murder in commission of a robbery, kidnapping and carjacking. Both could face the death penalty if convicted.
Separate juries will hear the evidence against the two men during the same trial. Attorneys will deliver one set of opening statements this morning and the other, this afternoon.
Deputy District Attorney Manny Bustamante said the two juries likely will hear most of the same evidence at the same time. He said the trial could last until the beginning of March.
Riverside County District Attorney's Office spokesman John Hall said the defense and prosecution can both request multiple juries, and it's ultimately up to the judge. He said there are many reasons why judges decide to have more than one jury, but generally it can be because there is testimony or evidence pertaining to one defendant and not another.
Kuzawa was found shot in the head and chest on May 7 on the dirt shoulder of Pierce Street south of Airport Boulevard in unincorporated Thermal. Cervantes and Contreras allegedly carjacked him, tied his wrists behind his back with an electrical cable and killed him.
Suspicious charges were made on Kuzawa's credit card that night, and surveillance video at a Coachella gas station, to which an ATM transaction was traced, showed Kuzawa's truck pulling up to the pumps, according to court papers.
From April 28 to May 7, the two men allegedly "embarked on a crime spree ranging on the low end from carjackings, a home-invasion robbery and culminating with a brutal murder," court papers allege.
On May 4, Cervantes allegedly robbed a man and his friend at gunpoint and tied them up in the man's home on Calle Monterey in La Quinta. He allegedly made off with firearms, a wallet, a money clip, gemstones and the homeowner's Porsche. A few days later, Contreras allegedly was found in possession of an amethyst stone belonging to the homeowner, according to court papers.
On May 3, Contreras allegedly shot a man in the jaw and shoulder and stole his pickup truck near Dillon Road and Vista Del Sur in Coachella. The pickup was later found burned in Indio.
On April 28, he allegedly held up a woman while she ate lunch in her car in Palm Desert. He allegedly took her driver's license, money and rings and drove her around in her vehicle before dropping her off in the Thermal area. The vehicle was later found abandoned in Coachella.
Cervantes is also accused of stealing a car in Thermal on May 11.
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