INDIO, Calif. - Jurors finished their first full day of deliberations today without reaching a verdict in the trial of one of two men charged in the robbery-motivated slaying of a 55-year-old Indio resident.
Carlos Contreras, 34, and Daniel Cervantes, 35, could face the death penalty if convicted of the May 7, 2008, murder of Daniel Kuzawa, and jurors find true special circumstance allegations of murder in commission of a robbery, kidnapping and carjacking.
Both defendants -- who are also charged with committing other crimes over a two-week span -- were tried together, but with separate juries. Cervantes' jury returned a verdict on Feb. 5, but it won't be read until Contreras' panel -- which will resume deliberations at 9 a.m. tomorrow -- reaches a decision.
Kuzawa was found by a field worker. He had been shot at close range in the head and chest on the dirt shoulder of Pierce Street south of Airport Boulevard. His wrists and neck were bound with electrical cable.
Deputy District Attorney Manny Bustamante alleged that Cervantes held a gun on the victim, while Contreras tied up Kuzawa in his own truck as victim repeatedly pleaded for his life.
The morning after Kuzawa was slain, Contreras used Kuzawa's transponder to enter the gated community where the victim lived with his wife and knocked on their door, apparently with the idea of robbing the residence, according to the prosecution. Contreras asked Kuzawa's wife if he could use the phone, but she refused and he left, Bustamante said.
"Ask yourselves, who does this? He takes the truck, takes the credit card, tries to take money with it ... A thief and a murderer does that. Carlos Contreras does that," Bustamante said in his closing argument last Thursday.
Kuzawa's credit card was used at a Shell station in Coachella early on the morning of May 7. Surveillance video from the Fastrip station, 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 riding in another vehicle, Bustamante said.
Contreras was arrested that night, after authorities stopped a vehicle in which he was a passenger. While trying to flee, he disposed of a gun believed to be the weapon used to kill Kuzawa, the prosecutor said.
Contreras had gunshot residue on his hands and was in possession of 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. He was also carrying Kuzawa's insurance and Costco cards, Bustamante said.
A search of the Coachella home where Contreras lived with his parents turned up an ATM receipt from the Fastrip station and spools of cable of the type used to bind Kuzawa, according to Bustamante.
"Overwhelming (evidence) shows Carlos Contreras carjacked, kidnapped and murdered Daniel Kuzawa," Bustamante said.
Contreras' attorney, Gail O'Rane, argued in her closing argument that Contreras' decision to go to the Kuzawas' house showed he didn't know Daniel Kuzawa was dead.
"Why knock on the door if you know the man of the house isn't there? That shows you he didn't know. If he knew, he would go right in," O'Rane said.
She said fingerprints found on Kuzawa's truck and the truck belonging to Walter Garrett -- who he is accused of shooting during a carjacking a few days before Kuzawa was killed -- didn't match Contreras' fingerprints. She also said there was one particle of gunshot residue found on each of Contreras' hands, and an expert testified there was no way to tell for certain that Contreras fired a gun.
"You can't really determine what happened; the evidence doesn't tell you that. (The prosecution) is asking you to speculate and guess," she told the jury.
She said evidence showed Cervantes, not Contreras, was connected to the crimes, and there was "reasonable doubt" of her client's involvement.
Contreras is accused of shooting Garrett in the jaw and shoulder and stealing his pickup truck near Dillon Road and Vista Del Sur in Coachella on May 3, 2008. The pickup was later found burned in Indio.
On April 28, 2008, Contreras allegedly robbed a woman while she was sitting in her car in Palm Desert. He allegedly dropped Sandra Jaramillo off in the Thermal area and threatened to kill her if she looked back, Bustamante said. The vehicle was later found abandoned in Coachella.
Cervantes is also accused of robbing and kidnapping a Thermal-area man, Diego Chavez, on May 11, 2008, and having another man's check in his possession when he was arrested on May 22. At the prosecution's request, the judge dismissed allegations that Cervantes tied up and robbed a La Quinta man and his friend at the man's home on May 4, 2008.
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