Jury selection began today for the trial of four Northern California men accused of killing a Palm Springs retiree nearly two years ago as part of a plot to steal his identity and raid his financial assets.
Daniel Garcia, 27, Kaushal Niroula, 28, Miguel Bustamante, 27, and San Francisco attorney David Replogle, 60, are each charged with first-degree murder.
The men also face sentence enhancing allegations of committing a murder for financial gain and during a robbery and a burglary, making them eligible for life in prison without parole if convicted of killing Clifford Lambert.
Garcia and Niroula are both representing themselves.
The selection of the jury is expected to last about a month, with opening statements set for Oct. 4. Testimony is expected to begin two days later, and the trial could last through the first week of January.
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.
Garcia, Niroula and Replogle are accused of hatching the plot to kill Lambert so that he could not contest forged power of attorney documents.
The prosecution alleges that Niroula let Bustamante and a fifth co- defendant, Craig McCarthy, into Lambert’s home on Dec. 5, 2008, and Bustamante stabbed the retiree to death.
McCarthy, a former Marine, pleaded guilty to a voluntary manslaughter charge last week. He is expected to testify against his co-defendants as part of his plea deal.
The three allegedly loaded Lambert’s body into the trunk of his Mercedes- Benz and buried him in the hills in Fontana.
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-Benz 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.
Bustamante was apprehended by police while emptying Lambert’s home, and he implicated the other men in Lambert’s murder, according to the prosecution.
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. He has claimed Lambert gave him the cards.
Replogle’s attorney, John Patrick Dolan, has claimed Replogle was involved in a potential lawsuit between Niroula and Lambert. Niroula alleged in the lawsuit that Lambert had sexually abused him.
Replogle told police that Niroula threatened to kill Replogle and his mother if he did not participate in the fraud.