By Marty Graham
SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A judge sentenced a former financial adviser to life in prison without parole on Friday for strangling a wealthy Southern California biotech executive and attempting to steal nearly $9 million from one of his investment accounts.
A San Diego Superior Court jury convicted Kent Keigwin, 61, of first-degree murder with special circumstances in November for the June 2010 death of 65-year-old John Watson.
Watson, a British-born millionaire who since his death has been praised for helping San Diego entrepreneurs win investments, was the former CEO and president of California-based biotechnology company Ionian Technologies Inc.
Keigwin, who was a financial adviser, was convicted of strangling Watson in the wealthy La Jolla beach enclave near San Diego, and subsequently transferred $8.9 million out of one of his accounts.
Keigwin had earlier worked to befriend Watson and later began tracking him and assuming his identity to defraud him, San Diego Deputy District Attorney Sharla Evert told Reuters.
On the day he killed Watson, Keigwin used a Taser to jolt him with an electric shock at the front door of his apartment in La Jolla and then strangled him, according to Evert.
Keigwin's DNA was subsequently found under the victim's fingernails, suggesting a struggle, Evert said.
Keigwin's attorney, Stacy Gulley, had said that Watson died after an "all-out fight" with Keigwin, who Gulley described as having had no motive to kill Watson.
But the day after Watson's death, Keigwin transferred $8.9 million from one of Watson's investment accounts into a new account he had opened in Watson's name, prosecutors said.
Keigwin had set up his first e-mail account in Watson's name over a year before the killing, and spent months setting up bank and investment accounts with the goal of siphoning off Watson's legitimate accounts, Evert said.
Homicide investigators arrested Keigwin three days after the murder, when he let himself into Watson's home using the dead man's keys and dressed in black with a backpack, Evert said. He may have been trying to clean up the crime scene, she said.
Keigwin, convicted of murder, was also found guilty of using the personal identity of another, burglary, forgery and attempted grand theft.
When he died, Watson was a board member with investor group Tech Coast Angels, which funds and guides fledgling companies with high growth potential in Southern California. Watson first came to the United States from Britain as a Fulbright scholar at Indiana University.
"He was great friends with our staff and often brought them roses, which they cherish now," Tech Coast Angel board member Stephen Flaim said.
Earlier this month, Tech Coast Angels said it had established the John G. Watson Foundation with a $1 million gift from his family to support entrepreneurs in the San Diego area.
The group described Watson as a shrewd investor who liked to hike and swim in the ocean.
(Writing By Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Tim Gaynor and Cynthia Johnston)