A man convicted in the kidnapping and murder of a Palm Desert resident who was slain at an Indio drug den, then left bound inside his burning SUV, was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, plus seven years and four months Friday.
Andrew John Muir, 29, was found guilty by a jury last November for the killing of 38-year-old Jason Cupit.
Prosecutors said the victim was stabbed in the back at an Indio home frequented by Muir prior to being left — handcuffed — inside his own vehicle, which was found ablaze off Vista Del Norte in Coachella on Aug. 14, 2015.
Jurors deliberated for about one day before returning their verdict on murder, kidnapping and arson counts, and also found true a special circumstance allegation of committing the murder in the commission of a felony.
Deputy District Attorney Anthony Orlando told the jury that Muir brought Cupit to the Indio home, where they bought drugs, and then a day after Cupit’s death, offered to buy gas and food for several people with the victim’s credit card, which was used at two area gas stations and at a Jack in the Box restaurant.
Orlando said the evidence against Muir was circumstantial, but pointed to him as Cupit’s killer.
Muir’s body was found handcuffed inside his burning Toyota Rav4 just before 4 a.m. 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.
Defense attorney John Dolan said Muir took part only in burning the victim’s car. He alleged that Cupit was killed by the men who lived at the home, including a now-deceased drug dealer and other addicts.
Dolan said the only evidence linking his client to Cupit’s death was the word of unreliable witnesses, one of whom told investigators that Muir said Cupit was acting “sheisty” and that he “killed that guy.”
The witness also told investigators that he 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.
Dolan said that no one else could corroborate the claims of the witness, who he suggested may have been involved in Cupit’s death.
“He made up a story,” Dolan alleged, “because he knew when the cops came, the jig was up. He was in trouble. He needed to deflect away from himself so he’s going to deflect to Mr. Muir.”
Muir, who was arrested on Sept. 8, 2015 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.
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 used to beat Cupit was also found, along with a crowbar that Dolan said was likely used to strike the victim.
A forensic pathologist testified that Cupit’s wound was caused by a knife, but Dolan said no knife was located or could be linked to Muir. He also argued that no fingerprints or DNA from his client were found inside the home or on the bat or crowbar.