INDIO, Calif. - A Northern California man convicted of murder, conspiracy and other charges stemming from the 2008 killing of a Palm Springs retiree was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in an Indio court today.
Daniel Carlos Garcia was convicted on Sept. 7 with co-defendant Kaushal Niroula of the stabbing death of 74-year-old Clifford Lambert, who was attacked in the kitchen of his Palm Springs home on Dec. 5, 2008, and buried in the
Prosecutors said there was a financial crime behind the murder. Niroula will be sentenced on Dec. 14.
Niroula, 31, and Garcia, 30, both represented themselves during the trial, which started on June 25. They were the last of six defendants to be prosecuted in the case, and the other four were convicted or pleaded guilty.
"It's time for this criminal enterprise to end," Deputy District Attorney Lisa DiMaria said in her closing argument. "Both of these men had material and profound roles in the conspiracy and Mr. Lambert's murder. Mr. Lambert deserves justice."
Garcia, in his closing argument, attacked the testimony of co-defendant Craig McCarthy, insisting there were too many unanswered questions and things McCarthy didn't mention on the stand.
"There's evidence Mr. Niroula went into a bank, there's evidence Mr. (co-defendant David) Replogle put his thumbprint on a notary book, but not for the murder, not for the murder they have alleged," Garcia said.
Replogle, a San Francisco attorney, and Miguel Bustamante were convicted in January 2011 of first-degree murder and eight other felony counts stemming from Lambert's death, and both were sentenced to life in prison without the
possibility of parole.
McCarthy, Bustamante's roommate, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in August 2010 and is scheduled to be sentenced this month. San Francisco art dealer Russell Manning pleaded guilty to fraud-related charges in the case in 2010 and was sentenced to five years in prison.
DiMaria said Garcia met Lambert online the spring before he died, and Lambert paid for Garcia to travel from Northern California to see him. Garcia's visit didn't go well and he left earlier than planned, charging Lambert's credit card when he upgraded his plane ticket to first class, the prosecutor said.
Text messages from Garcia's phone showed he had contact information for Replogle, who had represented him at one point and became a friend, and Bustamante, a student and bartender in the Bay Area. Bustamante's roommate was also dragged into the conspiracy, DiMaria said.
She said Garcia sent Lambert's address and phone number to Niroula, and on Dec. 1, Replogle and Niroula flew to Burbank and drove to Palm Springs. The next day, Niroula posed as an attorney representing a wealthy New York family that had left Lambert money or valuable artwork in a will, the prosecutor said.
On Dec. 5, Niroula was at Lambert's home, and at some point he let McCarthy and Bustamante into the house, the prosecutor said. McCarthy grabbed Lambert and held him at knifepoint in the kitchen, and Bustamante stabbed
Lambert to death, DiMaria told jurors.
They put Lambert's body into the trunk of his own Mercedes-Benz, and Bustamante and McCarthy buried Lambert in the desert the next day, according to the prosecutor. They drove the car to the Bay Area, and Garcia started using Lambert's debit card to withdraw money the same day, she alleged.
On Dec. 10, Niroula allegedly opened a Wells Fargo account with Replogle's identity and account numbers. The next day, Replogle, posing as Lambert, gave art dealer Manning power of attorney over Lambert's accounts, and Manning -- accompanied by Niroula -- wired $185,000 from Lambert's Palm Springs bank account to the newly opened Wells Fargo account, according to the prosecution.
On Dec. 12, Replogle -- again posing as Lambert and accompanied by Niroula -- met with a notary and forged four power of attorney documents, including a durable power of attorney that gave Manning power of attorney over Lambert's entire estate, DiMaria alleged.
The same day, Niroula transferred $30,000 into Bustamante's account and Manning wrote a check to Replogle for more than $15,000, closing out Lambert's account, she said.