A Carson City, Nevada, man charged with strangling an 81-yar-old man five years ago in his Newport Beach home had nothing to do with the killing and has an alibi, a defense attorney told jurors Wednesday.
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, told jurors in her opening statement of the trial on Wednesday that the case made by a prosecutor on Tuesday was “built on a house of cards, built on lies,” and added, “Mr. Garcia did not kill (the victim).”
Garcia, who was arrested in August 2016, is accused of killing Abelardo Lopez Estacion, whose body was found in the 2300 block of 16th Street 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 Tuesday.
Montoro accused Estacion of taking advantage of Lamb’s dementia to get married even though “she did not wish to be married.”
“He took her to be married when she did not know what was going on,” Montoro said. “He took her to marry her to keep control of her finances.”
Estacion lived on a meager income of Social Security income at the time, but Lamb was a “self-made woman” who had amassed rental property worth millions of dollars, Montoro said.
“He waited until she got sicker and sicker and added his name to more and more of her accounts,” Montoro said. “The sicker she got the more money and property he took.”
Lamb had $500,000 in her bank account at the time the victim was killed, Montoro said.
When a caretaker called Lamb’s daughter, Sharon Morgan, to report her mother had sustained bruises, Morgan, who was a professor at the University of Nevada, drove to Newport Beach and gained conservatorship over her mother, Montoro said.
Because Morgan was not a California resident, she had to stay in Santa Barbara with her brother to provide her mother with a California residence, Montoro said.
Garcia was a “simple man” who worked as a handyman for Morgan for $15 an hour, Montoro said.
He is a dedicated father to his daughters and was fully forthcoming to investigators, who wiretapped his phone and bullied his daughter to try to unwind the defendant’s alibi that he was in Carson City the night the victim was killed, Montoro said.
“No eyewitnesses see him, there’s no confession,” Montoro said. “He has adamantly denied having anything to do with Mr. Estacion’s death since the beginning.”
Bokosky alleged that Garcia gave his phone to his daughter, Samantha, who was working the night of the killing in Carson City, to provide a phony alibi while he drove to Newport Beach to kill Estacion in a scheme to help Morgan inherit all of Lamb’s property.
Montoro, however, said cellphone records show that her client’s phone was four miles away from Samantha’s phone while she worked the night shift at McDonald’s, so it was impossible for her to send text messages to both phones to establish the alibi.
“His phone cannot be at McDonald’s,” Montoro said. “It is where he says he is — at home… (The prosecution’s legal theory) doesn’t hold up to the science. It doesn’t hold up to the phone records.”
Montoro further alleged that Estacion was not taking care of Lamb, who had to be placed in an assisted living home earlier in the year.
One of Morgan’s daughters is the mother of Garcia’s daughters. Garcia was angry when he heard that Lamb was abused and dying of colon cancer, Montoro said in response to Bokosky’s allegation that Garcia threatened Estacion while speaking to one of Lamb’s tenants.
Montoro said Estacion and his three sons were “obsessed with money” and Estacion took advantage of Lamb’s deteriorating mental state to have her change her will so that Estacion would inherit everything but the Newport Beach home.
Before that, Lamb’s will allowed Estacion to live in the house until he died, Montoro said.
Lamb owned a house in San Clemente and an apartment complex in Costa Mesa she rented out.
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, Bokosky 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.
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.
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