Jailhouse Phonecall Tapes Turned Over To Murder Suspects

Daniel Garcia, Kaushal Niroula Acting As Own Attorneys

POSTED: 10:42 AM PDT Sep 27, 2011    UPDATED: 04:34 AM PST Mar 11, 2011 
INDIO, Calif. -

Tapes of jailhouse phone calls made by two accused killers will have to be turned over to the pair, who are acting as their own attorneys, as part of their investigation into alleged misconduct by authorities, a judge ruled today.

Daniel Garcia, 28, and Kaushal Niroula, 29, are accused in the Dec. 5, 2008, financially motivated slaying of 74-year-old Palm Springs retiree Clifford Lambert.

The men have accused investigators with the Riverside County District Attorney's Office of listening to privileged conversations in building their case against them. The men have been in custody since March 2009.

Superior Court Judge David B. Downing today ordered an April 8 hearing during which Global Tel Link, which operates the phone recording system at the Indio jail, will provide all recordings of calls to specific numbers and a history of who listened to them and when.

"They have been disseminated to the D.A.'s Office and other third parties," said Garcia, who told Downing he has made more than 2,000 phone calls since his arrest. "We want to see very specifically how each one was handled."

Garcia has filed a $240 million lawsuit against the District Attorney's Office, alleging civil rights violations.

In February, Downing denied the defendants' motion to disqualify the District Attorney's Office and dismiss the charges against them.

The judge determined prosecutors took pains to avoid listening to protected calls. However, he did acknowledge today that mistakes were made somewhere in the system, though he couldn't say which party was at fault. Those issues could range from attorneys not registering their numbers to imperfections with the computer system at the jail.

The judge noted as an example Garcia's recent conversation with one of his legal advisors, Robin Sax.

Garcia said a message started playing during the conversation that said the call was being recorded, even though calls to legal counsel are off limits under illegal search and seizure provisions in the U.S. Constitution.

"The big issue is that the jail seems to go back and forth and designate calls as privileged and not record them and then make them not privileged and record them," Garcia said.

Garcia and Niroula have already been approved the use laptops to plan their defense.

"This isn't a petty theft case. If they are convicted, they will spend the rest of their natural lives in prison," Downing said. "I want to be sure they have a right to defend themselves."

Garcia said he has already received recordings of all his phone calls and wants records of who listened to them. Niroula said he has files detailing what calls were recorded, but seeks a copy of all his taped conversations to make sure officials weren't keeping anything from him.

"There are discrepancies between the jail and the GTL system, which shouldn't occur," Niroula said. "When I see things missing in law enforcement, it piques my interest."

The defendants' trials could get under way in September.

Miguel Bustamante, 28, and David Replogle, 61, were found guilty in January of first-degree murder and conspiracy, among other charges, for killing Lambert during a staged break-in at his Palm Springs home. Craig McCarthy pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter last August.

According to police, the defendants planned to kidnap Lambert and steal his identity to clean out his bank accounts, but the plot fell apart.

The victim's body has never been found, but Bustamante, Niroula and McCarthy are believed to have buried his remains in the desert.

The group targeted Lambert because he was lonely, liked to meet people over the Internet and had an interest in younger men, prosecutors said.