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Murder suspect pleads not guilty in death of La Jolla biotech investor

A man accused of strangling a La Jolla investor in his home and transferring $7.5 million from the victim’s investment account to his own pleaded not guilty Thursday to murder charges and was denied bail.

“The defendant murdered the victim for financial gain,” prosecutor Sharla Evert told Judge Robert F. O’Neill.

Evert told the judge that Kent Thomas Keigwin, 59, was seen in the area of John Watson’s home on June 8, the day the victim was found dead.

Watson, 65, was a retired biotech executive and a member of a startup investment group, the prosecutor said.

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The prosecutor said the victim and the defendant — who were acquaintances — struggled inside Watson’s home, and the victim was Tasered and strangled near the door.

The next day, Keigwin transferred $7.5 million from one of Watson’s investment accounts into a new account that he had opened in the victim’s name, Evert alleged.

Keigwin also opened a safety deposit box and put his passport, Social Security card and transfer codes for bank accounts inside, according to the prosecutor.

Three days later, on June 11, Keigwin came back to Watson’s residence with the victim’s keys — dressed all in black and carrying an empty backpack — and was arrested by homicide detectives investigating Watson’s death, Evert said.

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“He was surprised by homicide detectives at the scene,” the prosecutor said outside court.

Keigwin could face life in prison without parole or the death penalty if convicted of murder for financial gain, the prosecutor said.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis will decide which penalty to pursue after the defendant’s preliminary hearing, which is scheduled for Aug. 24.

A status conference is set for Aug. 4 and a readiness conference for Aug. 18.