INDIO, Calif. - A Palm Desert resident was murdered by an acquaintance at an Indio drug den and left inside his burning SUV, a prosecutor said Tuesday, while a defense attorney told jurors that the evidence shows the man was killed by others living at the home and the defendant only took part in disposing of the victim's vehicle.
Andrew John Muir, 29, faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted of murder, kidnapping and arson, with a special circumstance allegation of committing the murder in the commission of a felony.
Prosecutors say Jason Cupit, 38, was beaten and stabbed to death at an Indio home frequented by Muir prior to being left -- handcuffed -- inside his own vehicle, which was found ablaze off Vista Del Norte on Aug. 14, 2015. An autopsy showed he was burned over more than 75 percent of his body, but died of a stab wound to the back and also suffered blunt force trauma before the fire.
"This was a horrific death,'' Deputy District Attorney Anthony Orlando said before showing jurors autopsy photos of Cupit's charred body.
Orlando told the jury in his opening statement that Muir brought Cupit to the Indio home, where they bought drugs, and then a day after Cupit's death, was offering to buy gas and food for several people with the victim's credit card. Investigators said the card was used at two area gas stations and at a Jack in the Box restaurant on Aug. 15.
On the night before Cupit's body was found, witnesses told police that they saw Muir speeding off from the home in Cupit's SUV, while a person in the cargo area was seen popping up once or twice as the vehicle was departing.
Muir, who was arrested on Sept. 8 at the Arabia Mobile Home Park in Indio, told investigators that he found Cupit lying on the floor of the Indio home.
He admitted dragging Cupit into the victim's Rav4, which he wiped down at another location, and also told investigators that he stole a can of gasoline, parked the SUV and left the gas can inside before walking away, according to the prosecution's trial brief.
Defense attorney John Dolan said Muir took part only in burning the victim's car, and alleged that Cupit was killed by the men who lived at the home, including now-deceased drug dealer Ceferino Lara and other addicts.
Witnesses said they saw Lara washing and painting the walls of the home after Muir allegedly drove off in Cupit's SUV, but prosecutors have not commented to what extent Lara may have been involved in Cupit's death.
Andrew Muir did not kill Jason Cupit,'' Dolan said in his opening statement. "Andrew Muir did not kidnap Jason Cupit. Andrew Muir did participate in the burning of Jason's dead body and his car, but he did so under duress.''
Dolan argued that Lara and others living at the home killed Cupit, then claimed to police that they overheard Muir admitting to the killing.
One witness told investigators that Muir said Cupit was acting "sheisty'' and that he ``killed that guy,'' according to the prosecution's brief.
Dolan argued that this witness pointed to Muir, as he was "the guy who represents the least danger to him.''
At the Indio home, investigators found Cupit's blood on the floor and ceiling of the living room and in two bedrooms. An aluminum baseball bat that investigators allege the defendant used to beat Cupit was also found, along with a crowbar that Dolan said was likely used to stab the victim.
The defense attorney said no fingerprints or DNA from Muir were found inside the home or on the bat and crowbar.
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