SANTA ANA (CNS) - A 62-year-old Carson City, Nevada, man was convicted today of choking to death a Newport Beach octogenarian in his home.
Anthony Thomas Garcia was convicted of first-degree murder, but jurors rejected a special circumstances allegation of murder for financial gain.
Garcia, who is scheduled to be sentenced April 28, faces 25 years to life in prison instead of life without the possibility of parole.
Garcia was convicted of the April 11, 2015, killing of 81-year-old Abelardo Lopez Estacion. Jurors in a trial last year deadlocked 6-6, prompting a mistrial.
On Monday, jurors in the second trial indicated they were deadlocked, but Orange County Superior Court Judge Sheila Hanson pushed them to keep deliberating and they came to a verdict at the end of the day Tuesday.
Garcia, who worked as a handyman for the daughter of the victim's wife, told one of her tenants that he wanted to kill Estacion, Senior Deputy District Attorney Seton Hunt said in his closing argument.
The victim “was someone the defendant said he wanted to murder,'' Hunt said.
Just before Estacion died he married his 94-year-old live-in girlfriend of 25 years, Dortha Lamb.
Garcia's attorney, Alisha Montoro, argued that Estacion took advantage of Lamb's dementia to control her finances. Lamb owned rental property worth millions of dollars, Montoro said.
Lamb had to be placed in an assisted living home earlier in the year because Estacion was not caring for her properly, Montoro said.
Sharon Morgan, Lamb's daughter, gained conservatorship over her mother, Montoro said.
Garcia worked as a handyman for Morgan for $15 an hour. One of Morgan's daughters is the mother of Garcia's daughters, Montoro said.
Garcia grew angry when he heard Lamb was abused and dying of colon cancer, Montoro said.
A legal dispute grew over Lamb's estate between Morgan and Estacion and his three sons. Estacion was accused of taking advantage of Lamb's deteriorating metal state to have her alter her will so Estacion would inherit everything but the Newport Beach home, where Estacion was allowed to live until he died, Montoro said.
Lamb also owned a house in San Clemente and an apartment complex in Costa Mesa that she rented out.
In last year's trial, Senior Deputy District Attorney Whitney Bokosky said Estacion and his wife amended her trust in 2014 so the Newport Beach home would go to Lamb's daughter if Lamb died before Estacion, who would inherit the rental properties.
That left Morgan with only the Newport Beach home as an inheritance, Bokosky said.
On March 16, 2015, Morgan, Garcia and his daughter went to the Newport Beach house to see Lamb and changed her finances, Bokosky said.
Morgan and Garcia did not get along well with Estacion, Bokosky said.
“Mr. Garcia believed Mr. Estacion was physically and financially abusive to Dortha,'' she said, telling jurors that Garcia “thought he was siphoning money from Dortha's accounts.''
Hunt argued that Garcia concocted a scheme to develop a phony alibi with his daughter exchanging text messages with the defendant's phone while he drove to Newport Beach from Nevada to kill the victim at 2 a.m. in the morning in his bed.
“There are no other texts prior to that time,'' Hunt said. “That is extraordinary. That is not reasonable, except that it points to guilt.''
Hunt added, “I don't have to prove how they pulled off the fraud. If you reach the reasonable conclusion they pulled off the fraud then the details of that fraud are not what this case is all about. The fact that it was committed is relevant... There are numerous ways they could get away with it.''
Hunt also said the defendant's daughter, Samantha Garcia, told police when she was first questioned that he gave her the phone to create an alibi. Then she sent a letter to her father, saying she told police about the scheme, Hunt said.
“She claimed on the stand that her father didn't know, which doesn't make sense, and that she lied to her own father in the letter, which doesn't make sense,'' Hunt said.
“It's absurd... She spoke to a defense investigator and lied to him. The defense investigator works for the defense. He's not a police officer. He's working to help her father. It's a bit of a house of cards.''
Hunt argued, “The defendant created a fake alibi in this case and used his daughter to do so.''
Montoro argued, “This whole case is about an alibi. Mr. Garcia's phone is clearly being used in Carson City, Nevada... It's impossible for it to be used committing a murder in Newport Beach.''
Montoro said her client “was never entitled to'' Lamb's “money,'' so he did not have a motive to kill for financial gain.
“Mr. Garcia never left Nevada,'' on the date of the killing, Montoro said.
Montoro said the prosecution team made “gigantic mistakes'' and “assumptions.''
Samantha Garcia was “interrogated for hours'' and was “fed this theory and eventually adopts that theory'' of a fake alibi, Montoro said.
Hunt “had a theory and would do anything to just make it fit,'' Montoro argued. “Now, five or six years later you get a bunch of smoke and mirrors.''
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