Tag Archives: politics

Woman dead before tossed off cruise ship, pathologist testified

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Lonnie Kocontes, a former Orange County attorney accused of strangling and tossing his former wife overboard from a cruise liner in Italy in 2006, appears in Superior Court in Santa Ana before Judge Gregg Prickett Wednesday morning for a hearing and for the judge to consider a motion to dismiss by his attorneys.

A cruise ship passenger was dead before her body hit the Mediterranean Sea more than seven years ago, an Italian pathologist testified, according to court documents.

Micki Kanesaki, 52, of Ladera Ranch was strangled earlier in the evening before she went overboard, Dr. Pietrantonio Ricci told the Orange County grand jury during a secret session.

The arguments

Defense says:

“Therefore, the sole remedy for a government whose nationals may have been harmed or another country’s flag ship or in another country’s territorial waters, where those countries failed to exercise (their) jurisdiction and prosecute, is to seek damages, not to confer jurisdiction.”

– defense lawyers James Bustamante and David Michael

Prosecution says:

“(Micki) Kanesaki’s murder began the moment the defendant concluded that he no longer wanted her in his life and needed to get rid of her in order to continue his love affair with (Amy) Nguyen. The defendant commenced the murder in Orange County, California, and completed it in Italy. The crime was ongoing from the time the intent was formed until the act was completed in Italy. Thus, the State of California has an interest in this case.”

– Deputy District Attorney Seton Hunt

 What’s next?

Superior Court Judge William Evans in late May sided with Lonnie Loren Kocontes’ attorneys, finding even if someone formed criminal intent and committed an act in the state, California only has jurisdiction for crimes culminating in other states, not in other countries. Evans dismissed the case, and prosecutors immediately refiled charges.

Now, if Judge Gregg Prickett dismisses charges, Kocontes goes home. If not, the case continues. Prickett is expected to announce his decision in writing before July 29.

 “I am certain of that,” Ricci testified, according to hundreds of pages of grand jury transcripts reviewed by the Orange County Register.

Ricci’s opinion after conducting Kanesaki’s autopsy was one of the pieces of circumstantial evidence presented by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office during two days in June that led to the indictment of Kanesaki’s ex-husband, Lonnie Loren Kocontes, on special circumstances murder charges.

Kocontes, 55, was an attorney with an Orange County law firm in 2006 when he took his wife on a Mediterranean cruise. He was living in Safety Harbor, Fla., when he was arrested and charged with her murder in February.

He now faces a minimum life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole from an Orange County judge if he is convicted of killing Kanesaki for financial gain. Kocontes has pleaded not guilty.

Deputy District Attorney Susan Price contends that Kocontes plotted and took steps to murder Kanesaki on the cruise while he was living with her in Orange County, in part to get access to $1.7 million in their joint account.

Defense attorneys argue, among other things, that Orange County has no jurisdiction to prosecute Kocontes for events that happened more than 6,000 miles away.

A ruling on the jurisdictional issue by Superior Court Judge Gregg Prickett is expected later this month.


Kanesaki, a paralegal, disappeared in the darkness of night off the Italian coast in the wake of a cruise liner she boarded a few days earlier with Kocontes in Spain.

Kocontes reported her missing to cruise ship operators and later to Italian authorities, insisting that he last saw her sometime before midnight May 25, 2006, when she left their balcony stateroom aboard the Island Escape to get some herbal tea.

Her body was recovered less than two days later, but by then Kocontes had boarded an airplane and returned to his lover in Orange County, according to news accounts.

He later married someone else, moved to Florida and continued to practice law.

In the meantime, partially in the wake of Ricci’s opinion that strangulation and not drowning caused Kanesaki’s death, law enforcement authorities from Italy, the FBI and eventually the Orange County Sheriff’s Department investigated her death.

Last month, after international and federal authorities declined to prosecute, Price presented the case to the Orange County grand jury.

Price called 14 witnesses, including two from Italy, to the stand during two days of closed-door sessions and introduced 56 exhibits – photos, financial records and emails. The testimony produced more than 300 pages of grand jury transcripts. In the indictment process, a grand jury does not hear evidence from the defense.

Ricci, chief medical examiner for the Calabria region of Italy who performed the autopsy on Kanesaki in Italy, was one of the first to testify. He told the grand jury that he found, in addition to bruises on Kanesaki’s neck, injuries on other parts of her body.

“The same force that was applied to the neck was applied to the legs and the arms,” he testified.

Other witnesses testified, according to grand jury transcripts, that:

•Kanesaki’s body was found about 20 miles north of the island of Stromboli.

•Kocontes booked a three-star, “cheap and cheerful” cruise ship operating in the British market that few Americans take.

•At the time Kocontes cruised with his ex-wife, he was having an affair with a schoolteacher to whom he previously had been married for a few months.

•Private investigator Billy Price, who befriended Kocontes in the early ’90s, testified that Kocontes asked him about security on cruise ships – whether they had cameras or key codes for rooms.

•”Lonnie’s two biggest existences in life is: one, money; and sex, two,” Billy Price testified. “So if you talk to him about anything, it’s going to relate back to money, no matter how you look at it.”


Prosecutors and Kocontes’ San Francisco defense lawyers have sparred in court and in written briefs around a central question: If a crime is planned in Orange County but concludes overseas, who has the jurisdiction to prosecute?

For the answer, both sides have looked in part to a 1905 California statute, trying to interpret whether it gives the state power to prosecute crimes that occurred only in other states or also in another country.

Kocontes’ lawyers, James Bustamante and David Michael, assert that any jurisdiction to prosecute lies with Italy, the country closest when Kanesaki disappeared, or possibly the Bahamas, following a longstanding maritime protocol called the “law of the flag.”

The Island Escape flew a Bahamian flag.

Allowing Kocontes to be prosecuted in Orange County runs afoul of international legal limitations on California’s jurisdiction, defense attorneys contend.

An Italian court determined that it lacked jurisdiction over Kocontes under Italian law, Deputy District Attorney Seton Hunt wrote in a legal brief. He insisted Orange County has jurisdiction to prosecute because Kocontes is alleged to have formed the intent to commit murder for financial gain while in the county and committed acts to facilitate the killing here.

“Lonnie Kocontes had direct access to a location where Micki Kanesaki would hit the water,” Price told the grand jury.

“And it is likely, based on the injuries around her neck and the injury to the back of her head, that the person who killed her was face to face with her … sucking the last life out of her,” she said.

“That killer wanted nothing other than to have her die.”



If you are charged with a crime, contact an experienced Orange County Bail Bondsman to assist you in any bail situation.



Irvine couple mourned at crash site

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Debby Rodriguez, left, gives Tami Crowell a hug during a curbside memorial to her parents, Richard and Sharon Crowell, who were struck and killed while walking to the gym on Eastwood in Irvine Tuesday morning.

IRVINE – Over 100 childhood friends, family members and longtime neighbors gathered Friday on an Irvine sidewalk where a married couple was struck by a car and killed.

Rick Crowell, 65, and Sharon Crowell, 61, were hit by a car on Eastwood on Tuesday morning. Sharon was found beneath the wreckage and was declared dead on the scene by paramedics. Rick was transported to a hospital but died a short time later, officials said.

“My mom was my best friend,” said Tami Crowell, the couple’s daughter, at Friday evening’s vigil. “So, not only did I lose my mother, I lost my best friend, too.”

Tami stood next to her brother Casey as neighbors and friends shared memories of their parents. Many who attended the vigil described Rick as friendly man who volunteered his time with youth football leagues and always greeted everyone, “even if he didn’t know them,” Tami said.

“They were as sweet as can be,” said Bill Tasher, who said he knew Rick for over 20 years growing up in El Segundo. “They loved living here and taking advantage of the peace and tranquility of the neighborhood.”

Friends at the vigil said Rick and Sharon were on their way to the Custom Bodies Fitness gym when the crash occurred. Employees at the gym said police officers came in that morning with the couple’s gym badges to try to identify them.

Authorities said a 17-year-old on his way to school veered onto a walkway lined with bushes. His car struck the couple before coming to a stop against a retaining wall and a tree. He stayed on the scene and cooperated with police after the crash. There are no charges pending against the boy, the Irvine Police Department said.

Several people at the vigil said the boy was a Northwood High School student on his way to school. He wasn’t at school the day after the crash, said M’Lis Fox, whose daughter goes to school with the boy. High school students at the vigil said Advanced Placement testing was scheduled for the day of the fatal crash.

A weeklong fundraiser for the couple’s family will be held starting Monday at Northwood Pizza. A percentage of the proceeds will go to the family, which plans to use it for a memorial near where the couple was killed.



If you are charged with a crime, contact an experienced Orange County Bail Bondsman to assist you in any bail situation.


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Ex-officer gets probation in rape trial after plea

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James Roberts, a former Huntington Beach Police Department officer, who was accused of sexually abusing his ex-wife and ex-girlfriend, listened during opening statements of his trial in Santa Ana. His trial ended abruptly Tuesday with majority of the charges against him dismissed.

SANTA ANA – The trial of a former Huntington Beach police officer accused of sexually and physically abusing his ex-wife and former girlfriend ended abruptly Tuesday with most of the charges dismissed.

James Roberts, 36, was charged with 20 felony counts, including rape, sodomy by force, criminal threats, false imprisonment and aggravated assault. If convicted, he faced life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Instead, he pleaded guilty before Orange County Superior Court Judge Patrick Donahue to felony vandalism and one count of misdemeanor domestic battery with corporal injury, which together carry a maximum term of four years in prison. Donahue, who had let the jury go home early Tuesday afternoon so the lawyers could work out an agreement, suspended the prison term, ordering Roberts to serve five years of probation and meet conditions that include completion of a 52-week batterers-treatment program.

The plea agreement between the prosecutor and the defense came after several days of testimony, including that of Roberts’ former wife, who had been on the stand about a day and a half.

County Deputy District Attorney John Christl told Donahue that he could not prove the remaining counts beyond a reasonable doubt.

“(After a) review of the evidence and the testimony elicited in the course of the trial, the prosecution feels we have proof problems, and we are unable to proceed,” Christl said afterward.

As he left the courthouse with Roberts, defense attorney John Barnett said the resolution reached was fair “after all the evidence was laid out.”

Roberts “is relieved to put the prosecution and the potential exposure behind him,” Barnett said.

Roberts’ former wife made a tearful plea to Donahue before the sentencing, saying that she “strongly disagreed” with the plea and that the two domestic-violence counts should have remained felonies. Another domestic-battery charge was among those dismissed.

“What James has done to our son has been extremely damaging,” she said, urging Roberts get counseling and apologize to her, their son and her family.

Donahue will dismiss the jury Wednesday.



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Authorities identify man found in water off Newport Beach

NEWPORT BEACH – Authorities have identified a man whose body was found in the water at a Newport Beach jetty.

Orange County coroner’s office officials Monday evening said Pedro Ruiz, 82, of Costa Mesa is the man who was found in the water at the base of the 40th Street jetty about 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Officers responding to reports of a dead man on the rocks at the water line pulled Ruiz onto shore.

Ruiz was fully clothed and appeared to have been in the water for only a short period, a police statement said.

The coroner’s office estimates that Ruiz died about 1:30 p.m.

Authorities are awaiting the results of an autopsy scheduled for later this week to determine the official cause of Ruiz’s death.

Police say there were no obvious signs of trauma on Ruiz’s body, leading them to say that foul play is not suspected.

Police are asking anyone with information to contact Newport Beach police Detective Garrett Fitzgerald at 949-644-3797.



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H.B. moves toward fine for underage-drinking hosts

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Parents in Huntington Beach could face a fine if caught serving alcohol to minors. The city is believed to be the third in Orange County to adopt a social hosting ordinance. SETH PERLMAN, AP

HUNTINGTON BEACH Parents can now be held responsible if they are caught serving alcohol to minors at parties.

This new rule on the city’s books passed 5-2 at the City Council meeting on Tuesday with council members Matthew Harper and Jill Hardy dissenting. The new rule will apply a $250 fine for violators.

Mission Viejo was the first city to adopt this rule in 2008 and Laguna Beach jumped on board in December.

“This is one of those that is really easy to vote in favor of and it looks real good,” Hardy said. “To stand up and oppose it is very brave, I think. I’m going to get accused of not listening to the parents … or not thinking of the children… but it’s just too easy for me to come up with how it goes bad.”

Councilman Joe Carchio, who brought the item to the council, said teens and parents are “begging for this”.

“Alcohol is the leading (substance) that creates problems that lead to drugs and so forth,” he said. “These people came from the PTA and expressed their concern and wanted this because they need to have it in place because this is where the kids start.”

The social hosting ordinance will be added to the city’s “loud parties” ordinance, which allows Huntington Beach to collect a fee for having the police respond to gatherings that are receiving noise complaints.

The city’s law will combine the state “contributing to delinquency” law and civil liability for “social hosting” into one law that will serve as a tool for the police department to deter under age drinking.

Police can either charge a flat $250 fee for the violation or they can apply an itemized fee that could include things such as salaries of the officers when responding to parties, the cost of equipment and the cost of any medical treatment if a police officer is injured, the ordinance says.

“This speaks in plain language about the nature of the problem and it gives the police officer tools that we don’t have now,” said Police Chief Kenneth Small said. “This adds a civil citation process … which is a much easier and simpler way for the police department to address it.”

Hardy said she was concerned that parents could be wrongfully accused of hosting a party.

As a teacher, she said she hears how students go out of their way to hide things from their parents. She gave the example of teens watching movies in a home while the parents are upstairs and one teen sneaking in alcohol without the adults knowing.

“What if one kid gets sick and then they call their parents … and that parent flips out and calls the police?” Hardy said. “The potential for a parent being accused of hosting when they aren’t just seems too strong here.”

The law will have some exemptions, including allowing alcohol for religious activities or skipping a citation if it is determine the host of the party took “reasonable steps to prevent underage drinking,” the law says.

The ordinance will come back for a second reading at a future meeting before going into effect.



If you are charged with a crime, contact an experienced Orange County Bail Bondsman to assist you in any bail situation.


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Fear holds Dorner target hostage

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Husband and wife Los Angeles Police Department officers Phil and Emada Tingirides were part of a press conference about what it was like being on the hit list of former LAPD officer Christopher Dorner at the LAPD Police Administration Building in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday morning. Later in the day the two gave a sit-down interview with Register reporter Tony Saavedra.

Los Angeles Police Department Capt. Phil Tingirides – one of Christopher Dorner’s main targets – says he now knows the meaning of fear, the kind that creeps up in your voice, the kind that sends you to the family garage to cry in private.

And that has made him a better servant of the neighborhoods he serves in Watts, says Tingirides, who hunkered down for nearly a week with his family at their home in Irvine – close to where Dorner killed his first two victims.

“It does give a sense of the real fear that the community I serve faces daily,” he said Tuesday at a news conference at LAPD headquarters.

By his side – at the conference and in a subsequent interview – was his wife, Emada, 42, a sergeant in the department.

As Dorner rained violence for six days in Southern California, Phil and Emada Tingirides put on a brave face for their six children – ages 10 to 24 – trying to downplay the danger while police officers with guns kept guard outside. After the first day, they kept the television and radio off to keep from scaring the children. But sometimes the news broke through.

“There was such an overwhelming feeling of fear, we were putting on our strong face and watching our kids go through this. That was a very emotional thing to go through,” said Phil Tingirides, 54. “I felt the fear of the reality of what he had done and what he could do to our family.”

What Dorner is alleged to have done is kill the daughter of his former attorney and her boyfriend on Feb. 3, apparently in retaliation for his 2008 dismissal from the department for making false accusations against a training officer. The morning after Irvine police named him as a suspect, police say, Dorner stepped up his rampage, killing a Riverside police officer, and also killed a San Bernardino County deputy on Feb. 12 in a raging gunfight before dying in a Big Bear cabin set aflame by tear-gas canisters.

In an 11,000-word “manifesto,” Dorner threatened violence on the LAPD officials he blamed for his firing. Phil Tingirides was named by Dorner as the chairman of the review board that recommended to the chief that his firing be upheld.

Dorner wrote that Tingirides was friends with his training officer and should have been removed from the three-member Board of Rights for having a conflict of interest. In an interview, Tingirides said that with his 33-year tenure, it’s hard to serve on a review panel without knowing someone involved in the proceedings.

The board’s conclusion was upheld in Superior Court and in appellate court. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announced Tuesday that criminal defense attorney Gerald Chaleff, who helped investigate the department’s role in the 1992 riots, has been asked to re-examine Dorner’s dismissal. Beck said it probably would take several months before the investigation is completed and becomes public.

Phil Tingirides said he invites the scrutiny, “confident that nothing was inappropriate.”

“Never, ever, did I think somebody would go to this extent in their rage over the decision that was handed out,” Tingirides said.

Emada Tingirides, an African American woman, held herself as proof that there is little if any racism in the LAPD – despite Dorner’s claims that the department hasn’t changed since the Rodney King days. A veteran of nearly 18 years, Emada Tingirides said, “I know in my heart it’s not true.”

However, she understands how some people can feel empathy for Dorner. “Everybody’s sense of reality is different,” she said. “There are going to be people that understand the struggles of Christopher Dorner. … I don’t understand the empathy people have for people who planned out and murdered children. (But) my heart goes out to Christopher Dorner’s mother. He’s her child.”

Emada Tingirides said she first learned of Dorner’s threats on Feb. 6, when Irvine named him a suspect in the killings of Monica Quan, 28, and Keith Lawrence, 27. She was driving a patrol vehicle when Phil telephoned.

“There was this fear in his voice,” she remembered. “I literally stopped my vehicle because I could hear the fear in my husband’s voice.” She initially thought one of their children had died.

Phil wanted her to take a helicopter home. “I don’t do helicopters,” she said.

She learned of Dorner’s writings and wondered, “How could a man who has given so much of his soul … to this department become a target for a man who spent less than 100 days?”

They rounded up their children – some in different households – to be in one location so they could be better protected. Then they tried to explain.

“We told them there was a crazy man trying to do really bad things to all the captains in the department,” Emada Tingirides said.

But the children began getting snippets of the real story. They realized, as Chief Beck put it, “Dorner did a lot of homework that no doubt included physical surveillance.”

They tried to pass the time by playing board games and watching DVDs. (“I didn’t know Adam Sandler had so many movies,” Phil Tingirides quipped.)

And they left the home on occasion to go to youth sporting events, taking with them their LAPD bodyguards. Neighbors brought cookies for the bodyguards. Irvine police brought pizza. The community had put a protective arm around the family.

In the early days of the manhunt, some friends suggested fleeing Irvine.

Said Phil Tingirides: “We had offers, come on up to Big Bear.”

Meanwhile, Beck announced that officers involved in the shooting of two newspaper carriers mistaken for Dorner had been taken off duty, pending an investigation. He added that resolution of the $1 million reward for information leading to Dorner’s capture situation was complicated and was still being studied. Beck said he wanted the money to be paid out.



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Off-duty officer arrested after fight outside Tustin sushi bar

TUSTIN – An off-duty police officer and another man were arrested Monday after Tustin police responded to reports of a man with a firearm during a fight at a sushi bar, authorities said.

A reported assault at RA Sushi in The District shopping center led to a fight involving two groups of customers that spilled into a common area outside the business and resulted in one person drawing a weapon, Tustin police Lt. Paul Garaven said.

Police found two men, Roy Edward Rush and Paul Edward Mosley, and took them into custody.

Mosley, who authorities say is a Los Angeles Police Department officer who was off-duty at the time of the fight, was believed to be the man with the firearm, Garaven said.

Investigators believe Rush and Mosley are acquaintances who got into a fight with another group of people.

Garaven said the members of the other group were found but not arrested.

There was no indication of shots being fired during the fight, and no injuries were reported.

Mosley, 42, was arrested on suspicion of brandishing a weapon and battery. Rush, 36, was arrested on suspicion of battery.



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