A Palm Desert resident was murdered by another man at an Indio drug den, then left bound inside a burning car, a prosecutor said Monday, while a defense attorney told jurors that the evidence against his client was thin and pointed entirely toward other men who lived at the home.
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 in the death of Jason Cupit.
Jurors got the case Monday afternoon and will resume deliberations on Tuesday morning.
The 38-year-old victim 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, according to the prosecution. 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.
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 on Aug. 15.
Orlando said the evidence against Muir was circumstantial, but pointed to him as Cupit’s killer.
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 now-deceased drug dealer Ceferino Lara 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 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 during the trial that Cupit’s wound was caused by a knife, but Dolan said no knife was located or could be linked to Muir.
In addition, no fingerprints or DNA from Muir were found inside the home or on the bat or crowbar.