Death sentence handed down for second time in carjack killing case

POSTED: 11:37 AM PDT Apr 26, 2013    UPDATED: 11:59 AM PDT Apr 26, 2013 
INDIO, Calif. -

A death sentence was handed down today for one of two men convicted of carjacking, kidnapping, robbing and killing a 55-year-old Indio resident.

Carlos Contreras, 34, was convicted in February of the May 7, 2008, murder of Daniel Kuzawa, and jurors found true special circumstance allegations of murder in the commission of a robbery, kidnapping and carjacking.

The same panel determined that Contreras deserved the death penalty, and Riverside County Superior Court Judge David B. Downing uphold the recommendation rather than sentencing the defendant to life in prison without parole.

Co-defendant Daniel Cervantes, 35, was also convicted in Kuzawa's murder and was sentenced to death on April 12.

 Kuzawa was found by a field worker. He had been shot in the head and chest at close range 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 said Cervantes held a gun on the victim while Contreras tied up Kuzawa in his own truck as he pleaded for his life.

Kuzawa's credit card was used at a Shell station in Coachella early on the morning of his death. 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, Bustamante 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 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.

Contreras was additionally convicted of shooting Walter Garrett in the jaw and shoulder near Dillon Road and Vista Del Sur in Coachella, and stealing and burning his pickup truck on May 3, 2008, as well as robbing, kidnapping and carjacking Sandra Jaramillo on April 28, 2008, in Palm Desert.

Contreras was also convicted of having property stolen from a La Quinta man and unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition.

He was sentenced to life in prison for shooting Garrett and for kidnapping Jaramillo, and 25 years to life for a gun use allegation.