A 63-year-old Nevada man was sentenced Monday to 25 years to life in prison for choking to death a Newport Beach octogenarian.
Anthony Thomas Garcia of Carson City was convicted March 30, 2021, of first-degree murder, but jurors rejected a special circumstances allegation of murder for financial gain in the April 11, 2015, killing of 81-year-old Abelardo Lopez Estacion.
Garcia insisted to Orange County Superior Court Judge Sheila Hanson that he was not guilty.
“We have just witnessed not only a grave injustice, but a failure of justice,” Garcia said, referring to the judge’s denial of the defendant’s motion for a new trial.
“For the last six years I’ve professed my innocence to a crime I didn’t commit,” Garcia said. “I have ha to endure mental and physical abuse… for 418 days since I was wrongfully convicted of a crime I did not commit. What you did today is not justice… I have always been innocent… I did not commit this crime.”
He added, “This 25 years to life, to me, is death… I will never accept this as an innocent man.”
Garcia’s siblings also told the judge they believe his claims of innocence.
Hanson said she was convinced of the defendant’s guilt.
“I would not be proceeding to sentencing if I believed Mr. Garcia was an innocent man,” she said. “This case is a tragedy for many reasons.” Hanson said she believed “the evidence did demonstrate that for whatever reason he committed the offense, and it’s a tragedy for all.”
Garcia was given credit for 2,127 days in custody. Reaching a verdict in the case was a lengthy process since jurors in a trial in 2020 deadlocked 6-6, prompting a mistrial.
Garcia’s attorney, Alisha Montoro, argued Monday for a new trial based on statements made by one juror that she saw two others on the panel sleeping during the trial, but Hanson said she had a better view of the socially distanced jurors and never saw that. Montoro also said one juror used evidence not presented at trial to convince the others about the manner of death, but Hanson said precedent has established it is okay for jurors to use their life experience in deciding a case.
Jurors in the second trial indicated they were also deadlocked, but Hanson pushed them to keep deliberating and they came to a verdict the next day.
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, Senior Deputy District Attorney Seton Hunt said in his closing argument.
The victim “was someone the defendant said he wanted to murder,” Hunt said.
Just before Estacion died, he married his 94-year-old live-in girlfriend of 25 years, Dortha Lamb.
Montoro argued during the trial that Estacion took advantage of Lamb’s dementia to control her finances. Lamb owned rental property worth millions of dollars, Montoro said.
Lamb had to be placed in an assisted living home earlier in the year because Estacion was not caring for her properly, Montoro said.
Sharon Morgan, Lamb’s daughter, gained conservatorship over her mother, Montoro said. Garcia worked as a handyman for Morgan, and one of Morgan’s daughters is the mother of Garcia’s daughters, Montoro said.
Garcia grew angry when he heard Lamb was abused and dying of colon cancer, Montoro said.
A legal dispute grew over Lamb’s estate between Morgan and Estacion and his three sons. Estacion was accused of taking advantage of Lamb’s deteriorating metal state to have her alter her will so Estacion would inherit everything but the Newport Beach home, where Estacion was allowed to live until he died, Montoro said.
Lamb also owned a house in San Clemente and an apartment complex in Costa Mesa that she rented out.
In the 2020 trial, Senior Deputy District Attorney Whitney 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.”
Hunt argued that Garcia concocted a scheme to develop a phony alibi with his daughter exchanging text messages with the defendant’s phone while he drove to Newport Beach from Nevada to kill the victim in bed at 2 a.m. Hunt said the defendant’s daughter, Samantha Garcia, told police when she was first questioned that he gave her the phone to create an alibi. Then she sent a letter to her father, saying she told police about the scheme, Hunt said.
“She claimed on the stand that her father didn’t know, which doesn’t make sense, and that she lied to her own father in the letter, which doesn’t make sense,” Hunt said.
“It’s absurd… She spoke to a defense investigator and lied to him. The defense investigator works for the defense. He’s not a police officer. He’s working to help her father. It’s a bit of a house of cards.”
Hunt argued, “The defendant created a fake alibi in this case and used his daughter to do so.”
Montoro argued, “This whole case is about an alibi. Mr. Garcia’s phone is clearly being used in Carson City, Nevada… It’s impossible for it to be used committing a murder in Newport Beach.”
Montoro said her client “was never entitled to” Lamb’s “money,” so he did not have a motive to kill for financial gain.
“Mr. Garcia never left Nevada,” on the date of the killing, Montoro said.
Montoro said the prosecution team made “gigantic mistakes” and “assumptions.”
Samantha Garcia was “interrogated for hours” and was “fed this theory and eventually adopts that theory” of a fake alibi, Montoro said.
Hunt “had a theory and would do anything to just make it fit,” Montoro argued. “Now, five or six years later you get a bunch of smoke and mirrors.”