A 41-year-old man was convicted again today of murder and other felony charges in connection to the financially motivated killing of a Palm Springs retiree in 2008.
Daniel Garcia was convicted of one felony count each of murder, conspiracy to commit a crime, using the personal identity information of another to obtain credit, and using a forged instrument. He was also convicted of three felony counts of burglary, two of grand theft over $950 and one misdemeanor count of receiving stolen property. A special circumstance allegation of murder for financial gain and a sentence enhancing allegation of fraud or embezzlement were also found true.
Daniel Garcia (Booking photo from 2012)
Jurors began deliberating Monday afternoon and reached the guilty verdicts by Tuesday morning, which Riverside County Superior Court Judge Anthony Villalobos read shortly before 2:30 p.m. in the Larson Justice Center in Indio.
A sentencing date was set for Nov. 17.
Garcia was convicted in 2012 with Kaushal Niroula, 41, in the 2008 Palm Springs killing of Clifford Lambert, and both were sentenced to life terms.
But they were granted new trials because of the behavior of the judge in the original trial. Niroula, however, was killed at the Cois Byrd Detention Center on Sept. 6, 2022.
Co-defendants Miguel Bustamante, 40, and David Replogle, 74, were first convicted in 2011, resulting in sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole. However, they appealed their verdicts based on appeals successfully lodged by Garcia and Niroula.
Replogle, on Aug. 11, 2022, and Bustamante, on June 14, were convicted again but have yet to be sentenced. Both defendants faced the same felony charges as Garcia and were both found guilty on all but one felony count of grand theft over $950, which they both had dismissed.
Bustamante is set to be sentenced Nov. 17 and Replogle on Jan. 12, 2024.
Other co-defendants are Russell Manning, who is now dead, and Craig McCarthy, who pleaded guilty in 2010 to felony charges.
In his closing argument of Garcia’s retrial, Deputy District Attorney Robert Hightower told jurors Monday that Lambert was on an online dating site in an effort to find companionship, but he was instead met with an evil plan resulting in his death.
After meeting online, Garcia visited Lambert at his Palm Springs home and proposed to Lambert the idea of investing in his business plan. But Lambert nixed the proposal and made him leave, calling out Garcia’s true intentions, Hightower said.
The prosecutor said Garcia then obtained Lambert’s personal information, including his credit card information, which was used to upgrade his flight back home, angering Lambert. That’s when Garcia’s plan is believed to have shifted, evolving from an investment scheme into a ploy to milk Lambert of all his worth.
Hightower showed jurors text messages exchanged among Garcia and the other defendants before, during, and after the plan was carried out.
In the days leading up to Lambert’s death, Niroula allegedly posed as an attorney, called Lambert to tell him he was inheriting a large sum of money, and set up a meeting with him for Dec. 4, 2008, Hightower said. On that day, McCarthy and Bustamante broke into Lambert’s home, armed themselves, and were allegedly meant to kill him, but they didn’t, according to Hightower.
Niroula set up a second meeting for the following day at Lambert’s home, when they did go through with the killing, according to Hightower, who showed jurors a timeline of calls, allegedly between Niroula and Garcia, with one that was believed to have been sent as Lambert was being killed.
The defendants then wrapped Lambert up in a rug, loaded him into the trunk of his Mercedes, and dumped his body along the way to Daly City, near San Francisco, Hightower said. After two days, Lambert’s friend filed a missing person report.
In 2020, it was confirmed that 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.
Garcia’s attorney, Stephen P. Jones, told jurors that while Lambert’s fate was undeserved, the case against his client has dragged on and prosecutors were unable to answer a series of questions that are vital to their burden of proof.
Jones said that if Lambert was repeatedly stabbed, there should have been a lot of blood at the scene, but instead law enforcement insisted on following a stabbing theory to get McCarthy’s testimony and further cooperation.
Another question that remained unanswered was why Garcia would conspire with people like Niroula and Replogle, whom he had incriminated and were known to have turned on one another in the past, Jones said. He added that Garcia’s only plan was to get Lambert to invest in his business idea, which wouldn’t be possible unless he were alive.
Jones said Lambert and Garcia had a rough patch but eventually rekindled their relationship. He also argued that text messages could be manipulated, and there’s no way he would kill Lambert over a few hundred thousand dollars.
He asked jurors at the end of his argument to find his client not guilty of counts one and two and, if anything, to only find Garcia guilty of involuntary manslaughter as it more adequately matches what he did.
Hightower rebutted Jones’ argument saying that no blood was found at the scene because it was cleaned up as evidence suggested. The prosecutor also said Garcia has a history of turning on friends, and also disputed the claim that text messages were manipulated, calling it a complicated process that couldn’t have been done with hundreds of messages.
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