A 24-year-old felon who shot and killed a Palm Desert man at a gas station nearly six years ago was convicted today of second-degree murder.
Following three days of deliberations, a Murrieta jury found Kurtis Knigge of La Quinta guilty of one count each of murder and shooting at an occupied vehicle, along with several sentence-enhancing allegations including discharging a firearm causing great bodily injury.
Prosecutors had sought a first-degree murder conviction. Knigge, who was 18 at the time of the slaying, could be sentenced to 40 years to life on Dec. 29 at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta.
Knigge remains held at the Southwest Detention Center in Murrieta in lieu of $2 million bail.
Knigge was arrested eight days after he 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.
Deputy District Attorney Antonio Fimbres said Knigge shot Pizarro once in the head before speeding away from the 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 rushed to John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Indio, where he died three days later.
Fimbres said 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.
Prosecutors said the defendant admitted to the shooting in an interview with investigators following his arrest, while exonerating a teenage passenger, according to court papers.
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.
Knigge additionally has an unresolved felony case pending involving burglary and vehicle theft allegations.