A May 14 trial date was set today for one of four men granted a retrial on charges stemming from the 2008 financially motivated killing of a Palm Springs retiree in which they were previously convicted.
Daniel Carlos Garcia, 38, and three others were granted a retrial last year following allegations that the judge who had presided over the case was biased against one of the defendants, which allowed all four a pathway to
securing new trials.
Garcia, who is defending himself, will be tried first at the Larson Justice Center in Indio. The other defendants -- Kaushal Niroula, Miguel Bustamante, and David Replogle are scheduled to return to court that same day for a trial-readiness conference.
Garcia and Niroula were convicted in September 2012 of murder, conspiracy and other charges stemming from the stabbing death of 74-year-old Clifford Lambert, who was attacked in the kitchen of his Palm Springs home on Dec. 5, 2008.
Both men represented themselves during the trial and were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Replogle and Bustamante were convicted in January 2011 of murder and eight other felony counts, and both were also sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge David Downing, now retired, was allegedly recorded admitting he had purposefully declined to read motions from Niroula, citing concerns Niroula was HIV-positive.
"Lord knows where his tongue has been," Downing said, according to court papers reviewed by the Desert Sun, which cited conversations allegedly recorded in secret during jury selection by Garcia with his laptop computer. The Riverside County District Attorney's Office did not contest the defendants' request for a new trial.
Following a thorough review of these claims, we made the decision that the interests of justice demanded these two defendants be granted a new trial.
To prevent even an appearance of judicial bias and to ensure the rights of the other defendants were protected, we advised we would also not oppose the granting of new trials for the other separately tried defendants,'' a statement
released by the DA's office read.
Two other defendants will not be receiving a new trial.
Craig McCarthy, Bustamante's roommate, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 25 years and four months in prison. San Francisco art dealer Russell Manning pleaded guilty to fraud-related charges in the case and was sentenced to five years in prison.
Deputy District Attorney Lisa DiMaria said during Garcia's and Niroula's trial that Garcia met Lambert online the spring 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, charging Lambert's credit card when he upgraded his plane ticket to first class, she said.
Text messages from Garcia's phone showed he had contact information for Replogle, who had represented him at one point and became a friend, and Bustamante, a student and bartender in the Bay Area. McCarthy was also dragged into the conspiracy, DiMaria said.
She said Garcia sent Lambert's address and phone number to Niroula, and on Dec. 1, 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 alleged.
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, and Bustamante stabbed
Lambert to death, DiMaria alleged.
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 Lambert in the desert the next day, according to the prosecutor.
They drove the car to the Bay Area, and Garcia started using Lambert's debit card to withdraw money the same day, she said.
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 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 said.
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.
All four men remain in custody pending trial.