A 74-year-old man was stabbed multiple times, with two knives at one point, in his Palm Springs kitchen, according to testimony today by a Northern California man who said he witnessed the financially motivated murder and helped mop up the blood.
Craig McCarthy, who pleaded guilty in 2010 to voluntary manslaughter in connection with Clifford Lambert’s death, took the stand in the trial of
Kaushal Niroula and Daniel Carlos Garcia, who are charged with the retiree’s murder.
Niroula, 31, and Daniel Carlos Garcia, 29, are each charged with 10 felony counts, including murder and conspiracy, in Lambert’s Dec. 5, 2008, death. Two other men were convicted of murder and other charges last year, while another pleaded guilty in connection with the case in 2010.
McCarthy testified that he and roommate Miguel Bustamante — who was sentenced to life behind bars for the murder — went to Lambert’s house to kill
him at the direction of Niroula, who was already inside the house.
Niroula, posing as an attorney for a woman who supposedly left something to Lambert in her will, let McCarthy and Bustamante into the victim’s house
through the kitchen, McCarthy said. They each took a knife from a butcher block near the stove, and when Lambert walked in, McCarthy grabbed him and held a knife to him, the witness said.
“Mr. Bustamante said, `Let go’ and Mr. Cliff said, `What’s this about?’ and Bustamante said, `You know what this is about’ … and he began attacking
him with the knife,” McCarthy testified.
“What do you mean by attacking with a knife?” Deputy District Attorney Lisa DiMaria asked.
“He stabbed Cliff repeatedly,” McCarthy replied.
Bustamante stabbed Lambert once in the front of the torso, the base of the skull and multiple times in the back when he doubled over, at which point Bustamante grabbed another knife and used both, McCarthy testified. One of the weapons was the size of a butcher knife, he said.
“You said he went to town on him?” DiMaria asked.
“Yes,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy said he did not stab Lambert, and that Niroula was in the other room when the stabbing started.
DiMaria asked McCarthy if he heard any sound from Lambert as he lay on the floor.
“I could hear him gurgling as he bled out,” McCarthy said.
“Did Mr. Bustamante stop stabbing him?” DiMaria asked.
“No, not right away, but he did stop (eventually),” McCarthy responded.
He said Niroula asked him and Bustamante to clean up the blood, check Lambert’s pockets and look for a ring on his finger. The men found credits
cards, an ID and money, which Niroula took, McCarthy said.
“Mr. Niroula needed the credit cards and ID to take (Lambert’s) identity,” McCarthy said, adding later that Niroula told them they would need
those items “in order to get paid.”
McCarthy said he and Bustamante used cleaning supplies in the house to clean up the blood, wrapped Lambert’s body in bedding and put him in the trunk
of his own Mercedes-Benz. He said Niroula put the knives and cleaning materials in a black bag and took it with him.
They drove to their hotel and checked out, and Niroula said he would fly back to San Francisco, McCarthy said.
“Mr. McCarthy, what was your frame of mind?” DiMaria asked.
“I don’t think I had a clear thought in my head. I was mostly shocked and appalled … I was pretty shaken up about it,” McCarthy said.
He said he and Bustamante had hidden in Lambert’s garage the day before with the intent to attack him, but backed out because McCarthy didn’t feel good
about it. He said when he arrived in the desert, he wanted to talk the other men out of the plan.
At the end of the day’s proceedings, Riverside County Superior Court Judge David B. Downing asked McCarthy how much blood was on the floor.
“There was quite a bit … there was more than just a puddle,” McCarthy replied.
Downing asked McCarthy, who had nursing training, if he thought Lambert died from his wounds.
“In my opinion, your honor, yes — it’s impossible for a human being to sustain those wounds, bleed out and live,” McCarthy said.
Bustamante and McCarthy buried Lambert in the desert the day after he was killed and then took the victim’s Mercedes — and his dog — to the Bay
Area, according to the prosecution.
Niroula — who, like Garcia, is representing himself in the trial, said in his opening statement Tuesday that there was no evidence linking him to the
killing and insisted the prosecution’s case was based on excuses and “fabricated” text messages.
He said Department of Justice personnel never found any forensic evidence after sweeping Lambert’s home “floor to ceiling,” and the house was
later “gutted” and sold. There was also no evidence found in Lambert’s Mercedes — the car was put into a police impound lot in the Bay Area and later
sold, Niroula said.
He called the proceedings “trial by text,” alleging that more than 30,000 text messages from Garcia’s phone were “fabricated and planted … for
a very specific reason, and you’re going to hear evidence of that.”
In her opening statement, DiMaria said Garcia and Niroula drained Lambert’s bank account, using his credit cards and taking his house and cars.
The prosecutor said Garcia met Lambert online the spring before he died, and the victim — who was gay and preferred younger men — paid for Garcia to
travel from Northern California to see him. Garcia’s visit didn’t go well and he left earlier than planned, charging Lambert’s credit card when he upgraded
his plane ticket to first class, the prosecutor said.
Text messages from Garcia’s phone showed he had contact information for David Replogle, a San Francisco attorney who had represented him at one point, and Bustamante, a student and bartender in the Bay Area, according to the prosecution.
Garcia sent Lambert’s address and phone number to Niroula, and on Dec. 1, Replogle and Niroula flew into Burbank and drove on to Palm Springs, DeMaria said.
The next day, Niroula posed as an attorney representing a New York family, the Mays, who owned department stores, and told Lambert that a member of the family had left him money or valuable artwork in a will, the prosecutor said.
On Dec. 5, Niroula was at Lambert’s home, and at some point let McCarthy and Bustamante into the house, she said. The next day, Garcia started using
Lambert’s debit card to withdraw money, the prosecutor alleged.
On Dec. 10, Niroula allegedly opened a Wells Fargo account with Replogle’s information and listed “Lambert Studios” as his employer. The next day, Replogle, posing as Lambert, gave art dealer Russell 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 prosecutor.
On Dec. 12, Replogle, again posing as Lambert and accompanied by Niroula, met with a notary and forged four power of attorney documents,
including a durable power of attorney that gave Manning power of attorney over Lambert’s entire estate, DiMaria alleged.
The same day, Niroula transferred $30,000 into Bustamante’s account and Manning wrote a check to Replogle for more than $15,000, closing out Lambert’s account, she said. Niroula and Replogle also met with a real estate agent and escrow officer in Fresno about selling a house in Palm Springs, DiMaria said.
Replogle and Bustamante were convicted in January 2011 of first-degree murder and eight other felony counts stemming from Lambert’s death, and both
were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Manning pleaded guilty to fraud-related charges and was sentenced to five years in prison. McCarthy pleaded guilty in August 2010 and is scheduled
to be sentenced in October.