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.