Jury Convicts Financial Advisor in Murder of Life Sciences Investor

11/22/11Follow @bvbigelow

Here at Xconomy, it’s unusual for us to shift far from our focus on the business of innovation—especially to cover something off the local police blotter.

But the 2010 murder of retired biotech CEO and angel investor John G. Watson hit close to home for San Diego’s innovation community, especially among local life sciences investors and members of the San Diego chapter of the Tech Coast Angels (TCA). Shortly after Watson’s body was discovered on June 8, 2010, San Diego police arrested Kent Thomas Keigwin, who knew Watson and had been working as a financial advisor in a local office of Wedbush Securities.

The case came to an end Friday, when a San Diego jury convicted Keigwin of first-degree murder, identity theft, attempted grand theft of personal property, burglary, and forgery. Deputy District Attorney Sharla Evert argued that Keigwin killed Watson to steal his money, firing a stun gun at Watson and strangling him inside Watson’s La Jolla apartment. The prosecutor said Keigwin used personal information he found in Watson’s wallet to impersonate him, transferring some $8.9 million from Watson’s accounts.

Keigwin’s lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Stacy Gulley, argued that the evidence showed only that Keigwin had committed a theft.

The trial began on Nov. 7, and ended exactly two weeks later. Dana Littlefield of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that jurors also found Keigwin guilty of committing the murder under special circumstances—murder for financial gain and murder during a robbery. That makes him eligible for a sentence of life in prison without parole.

During his years in San Diego, Watson’s social network consisted mostly of the local innovation community. As I reported at the time, he was a 65-year-old bachelor and former pharmaceutical executive who had settled into his retirement in La Jolla after moving to San Diego several years earlier to run Ionian Technologies. Watson was active in the Tech Coast Angels, a group of individual investors who fund and mentor early stage startups, and Connect, San Diego’s nonprofit group for technology and entrepreneurship.

Judge Frederic Link, who presided at the trial, set Keigwin’s sentencing hearing for Jan. 20, at 9 a.m. in the downtown San Diego County Courthouse.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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