Closing arguments to begin in Indio carjack killing case

Two men face murder charges in shooting death of 55-year-old Daniel Kuzawa

INDIO, Calif. - Closing arguments are scheduled Tuesday for one of two men  accused in a crime spree that ended with the fatal shooting of an Indio man.

      Carlos Contreras, 34, and Daniel Cervantes, 35, 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.

      Closing arguments for Cervantes began Monday and will continue today.  For Contreras, they will begin Thursday.

      Both men, who could face the death penalty, are also charged in  connection with a two-week crime spree. Separate juries heard evidence against  the two men during the same trial.

      Deputy District Attorney Manny Bustamante said in his opening statement  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, Bustamante 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 station in Coachella. Surveillance video from a  Fastrip station in Coachella, where an automated teller machine transaction was  traced, showed Kuzawa's truck pulling up to the pumps.

      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 automated teller machine 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'  cellphones 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.

      O'Rane contended a carjacking linked to the alleged two-week crime spree  occurred while Contreras was in custody.

      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 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, 2008, Contreras allegedly robbed Sandra Jaramillo while she  was sitting in her car in Palm Desert. He allegedly dropped her off 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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