A Carson City, Nevada, man slipped into the Newport Beach home of an 81-year-old man five years ago and strangled him to help his girlfriend’s family inherit the victim’s wife’s Orange County rental properties, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday.
Anthony Thomas Garcia, 61, is charged with special circumstances murder for financial gain. He faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
Garcia’s attorney, Alisha Montoro, is expected to make her opening statement in the trial Wednesday morning in the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana.
Garcia, who was arrested in August 2016, is accused of killing Abelardo Lopez Estacion, whose body was found in the 2300 block of 16th St. on April 11, 2015.
Estacion was living with his 94-year-old live-in girlfriend of 25 years, Dortha Lamb, whom he had married just before his death, Senior Deputy District Attorney Whitney Bokosky said.
Lamb at the time was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, so Estacion was her caretaker, Bokosky said.
Lamb owned a house in San Clemente and an apartment complex in Costa Mesa she rented.
Garcia was “romantically involved for many years” with Lamb’s granddaughter, Bokosky said.
A few months prior to the killing, Estacion and Lamb both suffered strokes, so Lamb was placed in an assisted living home at the beginning of 2015, Bokosky said.
But by March, Estacion moved her back to their Newport Beach home and Estacion had hired caregivers for help, the prosecutor said.
One caregiver found Estacion dead in his bed on the morning of April 11, 2015. An autopsy showed he was choked to death and suffered a broken bone in his neck, Bokosky said.
“He was strangled to death,” she said.
Estacion and his wife amended her trust in 2014 so the Newport Beach home would go to Lamb’s daughter, Sharon Morgan, 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,” Bokosky said.
Garcia “thought he was siphoning money from Dortha’s accounts,” Bokosky said.
So on March 25, 2015, when they knew Estacion was at dialysis treatment they chose to “steal Dortha” and took her to court to get a temporary conservatorship over her, which was granted, Bokosky said.
Then they took Lamb to Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, where a doctor said she was dying of terminal cancer, Bokosky said.
“At this point she’s going to die, so time is of the essence,” Bokosky said.
Morgan and Garcia took Lamb to her bank to make a withdrawal, but they forgot her identification so a teller refused, angering the two, Bokosky said.
They took Lamb to her brother’s home in Santa Barbara to set her up with hospice care, Bokosky said.
Then Garcia dropped off letters to tenants advising them to pay rent to Lamb instead of Estacion, Bokosky said.
Estacion hired an attorney and attempted to try to win back custody, prompting Morgan to seek a temporary restraining order barring Estacion’s contact with his wife and forcing him to move out of the Newport Beach home, Bokosky said.
An Orange County Superior Court judge on April 10, 2015, denied that temporary restraining order and move-out order and scheduled a hearing on May 1, the prosecutor added.
That night Estacion was killed, she said.
Garcia is accused of dropping off his cellphone with his daughter in Carson City, so he could have an alibi while he drove to Newport Beach to kill the victim, Bokosky alleged. The daughter sent text messages from her phone to her father’s phone to help facilitate the alibi, Bokosky alleged.
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