A Carson City, Nevada, man had the motive and opportunity to kill a Newport Beach octogenarian in his home, a prosecutor argued Wednesday, while the defendant’s attorney claimed law enforcement conspired to frame an innocent man.
Anthony Thomas Garcia, 61, is charged with murder, with a special circumstances allegation of murder for financial gain. He faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Whitney Bokosky told jurors in her closing argument that Garcia’s motive was his disdain for the 81-year-old victim, Abelardo Lopez Estacion.
Bokosky alleged that 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.
“That’s like some pretty crazy anger right there, and he didn’t just do it once, he did it three times,” she said of the alleged threats.
There were no signs of an intruder forcing their way into the victim’s home the night of the killing, the prosecutor said, because the killer “knew how to get in,” referring to Garcia’s handyman job.
“The defendant has the motive,” Bokosky said. “He was angry at Mr. Estacion.”
Bokosky alleged that Garcia attempted to establish a phony alibi by leaving his cell phone with his daughter in Nevada while he drove to Newport Beach to kill Estacion.
Samantha Garcia, who denied helping her father establish an alibi and claimed police beat her down under questioning, testified under limited immunity granted by prosecutors.
“She lied to you,” Bokosky said, telling the jury that the daughter told police the truth when she said she had her father’s cell phone.
The detective who conducted her initial interview with police “tells her time and time again, you need to get your life together … He never tells her that she cannot go home … Do not get it twisted, she never asks to go home before she spills the beans,” the prosecutor said.
Garcia’s attorney, Alisha Montoro, told jurors that Bokosky was “desperate” because “things didn’t go her way so she’s making things up.” Montoro also accused the prosecution of “hiding the evidence” during the trial.
“There’s no evidence (Garcia) was in Newport Beach” at the time of the killing, Montoro said. “In fact, the evidence is to the contrary.”
Bokosky countered that cell phone records showed the device was in Nevada, “not him.”
The prosecutor added, “If Mr. Garcia and his phone are in Carson, Nevada, why did he ignore every single person who called him and texted him” until the next day.
“That was not discussed,” Bokosky said. “They have no answer for you about that. How come he only responds to Samantha? The answer is he didn’t have his phone. Samantha had his phone.”
Just before his death, Estacion had married his 94-year-old live-in girlfriend of 25 years, Dortha Lamb.
Montoro claimed Estacion took advantage of Lamb’s dementia 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, 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,” the defense attorney 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, according to Montoro, who alleged that she had to be placed in an assisted living home earlier in the year because Estacion was not taking care of her.
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.
She said her client was a “simple man” who worked as a handyman for Morgan for $15 an hour. He is a dedicated father to his daughters and was fully forthcoming with 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 alleged.
“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.”
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 alleged 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 that 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 had moved her back to their Newport Beach home and hired caregivers, Bokosky said.
One caregiver found Estacion dead in his bed in the 2300 block of 16th Street 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 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.”
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. They then took Lamb to Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, where a doctor said she was dying of terminal cancer, 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, 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 for the same day that Estacion was killed, she said.