A 25-year-old felon was sentenced today to 40 years to life in state prison for gunning down a Palm Desert man during an argument at a gas station.
Kurtis Knigge of La Quinta was 18 years old when he opened fire on 26- year-old Conrado Pizarro in the parking lot of a Shell station in Palm Desert on Dec. 3, 2014.
A Murrieta jury deliberated three days last November before finding Knigge guilty of one count each of second-degree 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 for Knigge, but jurors disagreed.
Knigge received the maximum sentence possible in the case, which was handed down by Riverside County Superior Court Judge Kelly Hansen at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta.
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 the night of the shooting 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 was 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 about eight days after the shooting.
At the time, he 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.
He 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 had just graduated from school to become an air-conditioning technician and left behind a 5-year old daughter.
"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.''
At the time of the shooting, Knigge was serving a three-year probationary term stemming from a felony conviction for brandishing a firearm. He also has an unresolved felony case pending involving burglary and vehicle theft allegations.