A 40-year-old man who was convicted again of killing a Palm Springs retiree in a financial enrichment scheme and dumping his body by Interstate 5 while en route to Daly City was sentenced today to life without the possibility of parole.
Miguel Bustamante was found guilty of one felony count each of murder, using personal identity information of another to obtain credit, forged instrument, conspiracy to commit a crime and grand theft over $950; two felony counts of burglary; and one misdemeanor count of unlawfully receiving stolen property, according to court records. Jurors reached the guilty verdicts June 14.
Bustamante was sentenced Friday morning at the Larson Justice Center in Indio to life without the possibility of parole.
He was first convicted in 2011 with David Replogle, 74, for the Palm Springs killing of Clifford Lambert, resulting in sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
However, they appealed their verdicts based on appeals successfully lodged by co-defendants Daniel Carlos Garcia, 41, and Kaushal Niroula, 41, who were convicted in 2012 and sentenced to life terms, but were granted new trials because of the behavior of the judge in the original trial.
Other co-defendants Russell Manning, who is now dead, and Craig McCarthy pleaded guilty in 2010 to felony charges.
Prosecutors said the six defendants teamed up to take advantage of and kill Lambert, who was stabbed in the kitchen of his Palm Springs home on Dec. 5, 2008, for financial gain.
"Sometimes the promise of a fortune will make a man risk it all,'' Deputy District Attorney Robert Hightower told jurors.
He said Lambert was on an online dating site, where he met Garcia, who was living in San Francisco and utilized the victim's credit card to upgrade his flights when flying out to see him.
Hightower then took jurors through a timeline of events between November 2008 and January 2009. On the day after Thanksgiving 2008, Replogle and Niroula flew from Burbank to Palm Springs in an effort to recruit Manning into the scheme, Hightower said. On Dec. 2, 2008, in an attempt to get access to Lambert, Niroula posed as an attorney and called Lambert to tell him he would be inheriting a large amount of money, then set up a meeting with him the following day.
In the meantime, McCarthy and Bustamante broke into Lambert's home and armed themselves, but didn't follow through with anything, so Niroula set up a second meeting at Lambert's Palm Springs home for Dec. 5, 2008, according to the prosecutor. Niroula excused himself and walked to the kitchen, where he let McCarthy and Bustamante in through a side door, the prosecutor said.
"Both of them are armed with knives and as they enter the kitchen, at some point Mr. Lambert comes out, sort of a `What's going on' type of moment, and Mr. Bustamante stabs Cliff Lambert with the assistance of Craig McCarthy,'' Hightower said. "Once Mr. Lambert is dead, they clean up, they wrap Mr. Lambert up in a rug ... they load Mr. Lambert in the trunk of the Mercedes and they leave with the dog as well.''
The following day, the two dumped Lambert's body on the way to Daly City, which is near San Francisco, Hightower said. After two days, Lambert's friend filed a missing person report, while Niroula and Replogle started to go into Lambert's accounts to try to sell his home, the prosecutor said.
Parts of Lambert's body started to be found in 2016, when pipeline workers found a jawbone along Templin Highway in Castaic, Hightower said. His skull was found near the same area in 2017.
"(Lambert) was a man who was simply seeking out someone for companionship, to care about him and to love him. Instead, what he met was pure evil,'' Hightower said.