The defense rested and closing arguments began Tuesday in the retrial of a 73-year-old former attorney who was previously convicted in the 2008 financially motivated killing of a Palm Springs retiree but was granted a new trial — along with three of his co-defendants.
David K. Replogle is charged with first-degree murder, three counts of burglary, two counts of grand theft and one count each of identity theft, attempted unlawful receipt of stolen goods, forgery and a special-circumstance allegation of killing for financial gain in the 2008 death and disappearance of 74-year-old Clifford Lambert.
Replogle’s co-defendants — 39-year-old Miguel Adolfo Bustamante, 39-year-old Daniel Carlos Garcia and 40-year-old Kaushal Niroula — are also awaiting separate retrials on murder and other charges.
Replogle is being held without bail at the John J. Benoit Detention Center in Indio, where Bustamante and Garcia are also being held without bail. Niroula is being held without bail at the Southwest Detention Center in Murrieta.
Replogle and Bustamante were convicted together in 2011 of first-degree murder and the special-circumstance allegation, along with multiple other allegations, resulting in sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
However, they appealed their verdicts based on appeals successfully lodged by Garcia and Niroula, both of whom were also convicted of murder and sentenced to life terms, but were granted new trials because of the behavior of the judge in the original trial.
Niroula, who represented himself during his trial a decade ago, was able to establish possible improper conduct by now-retired Superior Court Judge David Downing, whom the defendants alleged refused to read motions introduced by Niroula, evidently because he had concerns over having contact with the defendant, who was HIV-positive.
Lambert was fatally stabbed in the kitchen of his Palm Springs home on Dec. 5, 2008, and buried in the desert. His body has never been located.
Deputy District Attorney Lisa DiMaria said during Garcia’s and Niroula’s trial that Garcia met Lambert online less than a year 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.
According to the prosecution, Lambert kept a small circle of friends and was searching for companionship online when he met Garcia.
Text messages from Garcia’s phone showed that he had contact information for Replogle, who had been his attorney at one point and became a friend, as well as Bustamante, a student and bartender in the Bay Area.
According to the prosecution, the men hatched a plan to steal from the retiree, drawing two others into the scheme — San Francisco art dealer Russell Herbert Manning and Craig Anthony McCarthy, also of the Bay Area.
Manning pleaded guilty in 2010 to burglary, forgery, grand theft and several other offenses, leading to a five-year prison sentence. In 2013, McCarthy admitted charges of voluntary manslaughter, robbery and six other felony counts, resulting in a 25-year term behind bars.
DiMaria said Garcia sent Lambert’s address and phone number to Niroula, and on Dec. 1, 2008, 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 purportedly 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, while Bustamante fatally stabbed the victim, DiMaria told jurors.
She said Niroula brought bedding into the kitchen so they could wrap up the body, while Bustamante and McCarthy cleaned up the blood.
They put Lambert’s body into the trunk of his own Mercedes-Benz, and Bustamante and McCarthy buried him in the desert the next day, according to the prosecution.
On Dec. 10, Niroula opened a Wells Fargo account with Replogle’s information, according to DiMaria. The next day, Replogle, posing as Lambert, gave 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, forged four power-of-attorney documents, including a durable power of attorney granting Manning carte blanche over Lambert’s entire estate, DiMaria said.
Money was then shelled out to the other co-conspirators, who were eventually implicated based on the wire transfers and other paper trails, according to prosecutors.