Jury selection is expected to begin later this week, with opening statement possible as soon as a week from Tuesday in the trial of a convicted felon accused in the shooting death of a Palm Desert resident at a gas station nearly six years ago.
Kurtis Knigge’s trial at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta is expected to stretch into mid-December, according to John Hall, a spokesman for the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office.
Knigge, 24, of La Quinta was arrested eight days after he allegedly gunned down 26-year-old Conrado Pizarro following an argument in the parking lot of a Shell station in Palm Desert on Dec. 3, 2014.
The defendant, who was 18 at the time, faces a possible life sentence if convicted of one count each of first-degree murder and shooting at an occupied vehicle, along with several sentence-enhancing allegations including discharging a firearm causing great bodily injury.
A trial brief prepared by Deputy District Attorney Antonio Fimbres alleges that Knigge shot Pizarro once in the head before speeding away from the Shell station at 77920 Avenue Of The States, near Washington Street.
First responders who arrived about 9 that night found Pizarro slumped over in the driver’s seat of his Lexus sedan. He was transported to John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital, where he died three days later.
The prosecutor alleged that the shooting occurred following a verbal spat between the two in the parking lot, although the nature of the argument has not been disclosed. It remains unclear if the two knew each other.
Knigge was taken into custody at the end of a high-speed chase involving a stolen vehicle that involved several collisions in multiple Coachella Valley cities, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
At the time, Knigge was also wanted in connection with a spate of residential burglaries and vehicle thefts in La Quinta, Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage, sheriff’s officials said.
In an interview following his arrest, the defendant allegedly admitted to the shooting, while exonerating a teenage passenger, the trial brief says.
“He had nothing to do with it,” Knigge allegedly told sheriff’s investigators.
Following the shooting, the victim’s sister wrote on a GoFundMe page seeking to cover funeral expenses that Pizarro left behind a 5-year-old daughter, and had just graduated from school to become an air-conditioning technician.
“My brother happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and that ended in tragedy and ended his life,” Joanna Ruiz wrote. “He was full of life and excited for his future.”
Knigge has a felony conviction for brandishing a firearm, for which he was serving a three-year probation term at the time of the alleged shooting.
He additionally has an unresolved felony case pending involving burglary and vehicle theft allegations.
The defendant remains in custody in lieu of $2 million at the Southwest Detention Center in Murrieta.
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