A Daly City man pleaded guilty today to voluntary manslaughter in the death of a Palm Springs retiree whose body has never been found.
Craig McCarthy, a 30-year-old former U.S. Marine, also admitted to charges of robbery, carjacking, burglary, assault with a deadly weapon, grand theft, accessory to a murder after the fact, attempted murder and conspiracy to commit identity theft in the Dec. 5, 2008, death of Clifford Lambert.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge David Downing sealed the terms of the agreement at the request of Deputy District Attorney Lisa DiMaria. The judge set sentencing for Jan. 21, when charges that could have sent him to prison for life without the possibility of parole are expected to be dismissed.
Also charged in Lambert’s death are San Francisco attorney David Replogle, 61; Kaushal Niroula, 28; Daniel Garcia, 28; and Miguel Bustamante, 27. McCarthy is expected to testify against his four co-defendants.
Jury selection for the four is expected to begin Sept. 7.
The men allegedly forged a power-of-attorney document to empty the 74- year-old victim’s bank accounts and sell his million-dollar home. Lambert’s body has not been found.
Both the prosecutor and McCarthy’s attorney, Mickie Reed, expressed concerns over McCarthy’s safety due to allegations that Garcia “put a hit” on a fellow jail inmate’s life, according to court documents.
Arthur Jimenez, who was housed with Bustamante in the Indio Jail, testified during a preliminary hearing last year that Bustamante told him details of Lambert’s murder.
Jimenez, who has several pending cases that would be his third strike, entered an agreement with prosecutors that he would testify in exchange for a 20-year prison term.
Palm Springs police Detective Frank Browning testified during the preliminary hearing that McCarthy told him the initial plan was to kidnap Lambert and steal his identity to clean out his accounts, but the plan hit a snag when concerns arose that the retiree could reemerge and contest forged power-of-attorney documents.
Niroula told McCarthy and Bustamante he had plans to visit with Lambert at his home and that he would disarm the alarm so the defendants could get in, according to Browning.
The night of killing, McCarthy and Bustamante let Niroula know by cell phone that they were at the back door, and Niroula unlocked it, the detective testified.
The two men were quickly discovered by Lambert, who asked them why they were in the house, Browning said.
According to Browning, McCarthy said he took a knife from the butcher block, grabbed Lambert from behind and held the knife to his chest, while Bustamante also grabbed a knife and told McCarthy to stand aside.
“Mr. Bustamante came down with the blade on the back of Lambert’s neck,” Browning said.
The three cleaned up the blood and loaded Lambert’s body into the trunk of his Mercedes-Benz, and McCarthy and Bustamante buried the retiree’s body in the hills in Fontana, he said.
Lambert was reported missing two days later by a friend. Detectives went to his home at 317 Camino Norte and found the mailbox full and his silver 2004 Mercedes missing.
Following Lambert’s death, Replogle allegedly created a false power-of- attorney document that allowed the co-defendants to empty the victim’s bank accounts. They also allegedly tried to complete a quick sale of his $1 million home for less than $300,000. A judge later halted the sale.
Garcia was caught with Lambert’s debit card, which was used to withdraw money from one of the retiree’s accounts for a two-week period after the murder, police said.
Bustamante was caught by police while emptying Lambert’s home, and he implicated the other men in Lambert’s murder, officials said.