Cervantes Sentenced to Death in 2008 Killing
Co-defendant in killing of 2008 slaying is sentenced in an Indio Court Video by kmir6.comvideo
INDIO (CNS) - A death sentence was handed down today for one of two men
convicted of carjacking, kidnapping, robbing and killing a 55-year-old Indio
``In my 33 years in the criminal justice system, this may be one of the
most cruel, evil and senseless murders of an innocent man I've ever seen,''
Riverside County Superior Court Judge David B. Downing said before handing down
The judge said the evidence against Carlos Contreras, 34, was
``There's no doubt at all he murdered Mr. (Daniel) Kuzawa -- none,''
Downing said, later adding that the May 7, 2008, killing was ``vicious,''
``pitiless'' and ``exhibited a high degree of cruelty and callousness.''
Contreras was convicted of murder in February, 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
Downing upheld 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.
The victim's wife, Esther Kuzawa, thanked the court for ``seeing that
justice was done'' and said the verdicts and sentences were correct.
``My husband was murdered, and brutally so ... it was a ridiculous,
senseless crime. It certainly changed my life and others,''' she said.
She read Genesis 9:6 from the Bible -- ``Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God he made man.''
The victim's brother, Mike Kuzawa, thanked the prosecution, court and
``especially the jurors for seeing to it ... (that) a would-be serial killer is
removed from the community.''
Contreras expressed ``deep condolences and prayers to the Kuzawa family
for suffering a deep loss'' and thanked his family and friends for their
support while claiming he was not treated fairly by the judicial system.
``I have humbled myself during these court proceedings ... and believe I
have not been given a fair trial,'' the defendant said, contending he was
``rushed'' into trial and his attorneys didn't have enough time to prepare.
``If I was given the proper time, the outcome would have been extremely
different,'' he said.
Downing denied Contreras' attorneys' request for a new trial and to
reduce the sentence to life in prison without parole.
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
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
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.
Kuzawa's pastor and family members, testifying during the trial's
penalty phase, said the victim was devoted to his family, friends and church,
and ran a successful business, Dirt First, with two water trucks and a backhoe.