The trial of a Nevada handyman accused of strangling an 81-year-old man to death in the bedroom of a Newport Beach home ended Tuesday afternoon with a deadlocked jury and a mistrial.
A Santa Ana jury was unable to reach a consensus on whether Anthony Thomas Garcia is guilty of special circumstances murder for financial gain related to the death of Abelardo Lopez Estacion on Apr. 11, 2015.
Jurors told Judge Sheila Hanson that they were evenly split, six to six, on the first degree murder charge. The judge agreed that the jury was hopelessly deadlocked, and declared a mistrial.
It wasn’t immediately clear if prosecutors will seek a retrial. Garcia, who remains in custody, was ordered to return to court on Aug. 28 for a pretrial hearing.
Estacion’s slaying came in the midst an ugly fight over control of his dying wife’s estate. Prosecutor’s allege that Garcia, a Carson City resident, drove to Newport Beach to strangle Estacion in his bed, while Garcia’s defense attorney contended that Garcia wasn’t even in California at the time of the killing.
Garcia’s ex-girlfriend was the granddaughter of Estacion’s wife, Dortha Lamb.
Deputy District Attorney Whitney Bokosky told jurors that Garcia became enraged at allegations that Estacion was abusing Lamb and siphoning funds from her accounts, noting that Garcia told others that he wanted to kill Estacion. The prosecutor alleged that on the night of the killing Garcia left his cell phone with his adult daughter to make it look like he was still in Nevada.
“He is the only one who had a motive to kill Mr. Estacion,” Bokosky said during her closing arguments. “He had the opportunity, he had the time and his daughter helped him create a false alibi. All roads point to Mr. Garcia.”
Garcia’s attorney, Alisha Montoro, denied that he had anything to do with Estacion’s death, noting that there was no direct evidence tying Garcia to the killing. She described Garcia as a non-violent family man, who had simply expressed his frustration at the abuse he believed Estacion had inflicted on Lamb.
“Mr. Garcia didn’t kill anyone,” Montoro said. “As human beings we have all vented in life … You are allowed to vent, you are allowed to say things. That doesn’t make you guilty of murder.”
During the investigation, and in testimony prior to the trial, Garcia’s adult daughter, Samantha Garcia, claimed her father left his cell phone with her the night of Estacion’s death so that she could carry out a fake text conversation between the two of them and provide him an alibi.
During the trial, the daughter recanted that earlier testimony, saying she had been pressured to lie by detectives. She didn’t have her father’s cell phone that night, the daughter testified, and had met with him in Carson City after midnight, at a time when Garcia would have had to have either been in Newport Beach or in transit to or from the city if he had carried out the killing.
The dramatic change in testimony led the prosecutor to question whether the daughter was now lying in order to protect her father.
Much of the trial focused on the battle over the estate of Lamb, who was dying of terminal cancer and suffering from dementia.
Lamb, a self-made woman who owned the Newport Beach home and valuable rental properties in San Clemente and Costa Mesa, had been with Estacion for more than 20 years, but only married him shortly before his death.
An amendment to Lamb’s trust meant that if she died before Estacion, only the Newport Beach home would have gone to Lamb’s family, while the lucrative rental properties would have gone to Estacion.
In March 2015, Lamb’s daughter, with Garcia’s help, took Lamb from the Newport Beach home while Estacion was gone, brought Lamb before a judge to get a temporary conservatorship, and then took her to a doctor who diagnosed her with the terminal cancer.
The family brought Lamb to her brother’s home in Santa Barbara. The move ignited a legal battle between Lamb’s daughter and Estacion, who wanted Lamb returned to the Newport Beach home.
A judge delayed a decision on a temporary restraining order that would have blocked Estacion from contacting Lamb and kicked him out of the Newport Beach home. Hours later, someone entered the Newport Beach, cut off power to the residence for 30 minutes and then smothered, struck and strangled Estacion.
Had he been convicted of special circumstances murder, Garcia would have faced life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Source: Orange County Register