An attorney charged with killing his ex-wife aboard a cruise ship near Italy was ordered Tuesday to stand trial on charges of attempting to solicit the murder of another wife, who is a key witness in the pending murder case, while he was in the Orange County Jail.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Richard King ruled there was enough evidence to hold Lonnie Loren Kocontes over for trial on two counts of solicitation of murder and one count of solicitation to commit a crime and scheduled a July 2 post-preliminary hearing date.
Kocontes' murder trial is scheduled for Sept. 20 at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana. Kocontes is accused of writing a letter for his third wife, Amy Nguyen, to sign declaring that she told the truth to a federal grand jury in 2006 when she said her husband had not killed his second wife, 52-year-old Micki Kanesaki, but lied when she testified against him in an Orange County grand jury hearing in 2013.
According to prosecutors, the letter stated that Nguyen was threatened by law enforcement to lie to the 2013 grand jury. Kocontes is accused of asking two fellow inmates to help him get Nguyen's signature on the letter and then arrange for her murder.
He has claimed that investigators concocted an undercover sting in the jail to implicate him in a solicitation for murder to bolster the Kanesaki murder case. Kocontes, who represented himself in the solicitation case, argued he was attempting to talk to his ex-wife to "persuade her with the truth."
He said he knew as a civil attorney that a letter from a witness would not be admissible in court. Prosecutors allege that Kocontes spoke with an undercover investigator posing as a hitman, using real estate parlance as a code. At some point, investigator Bill Beeman testified last week, he felt his cover was blown and Kocontes changed his tone and backed off the alleged murder plot.
"He tried to distance himself from (inmate Anthony King) and tried to blame him for stealing documents" from Kocontes, Beeman testified. Kocontes then attempted to make it seem as if he were paying Beeman for legal services, the investigator testified. Kocontes responded in his argument, "Hitmen don't send invoices."
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In a phone call to City News Service from jail, Kocontes alleged that he was moved from "minimum security" in 2013 to the Theo Lacy Jail facility in Orange because "they intended all along to place an informant with me."
But the so-called snitch scandal erupted in the case against mass killer Scott Dekraai, "so they had to find another way to do it... so they alleged a new crime," Kocontes said. Kocontes alleged the solicitation case was meant to "bolster" the murder case against him.
"The lies Anthony King told (investigators) were legion and they knew that," Kocontes said. Prosecutors allege that King came forward to authorities on his own, prompting the undercover investigation.
Kocontes' murder case has hit rough legal waters in the past.
He was charged on Feb. 13, 2013, with murder, with a special circumstance allegation of murder for financial gain, in the strangulation of Kanesaki. He allegedly then threw her body overboard a cruise ship near Italy on May 25, 2006. An Orange County Superior Court judge ruled prosecutors lacked jurisdiction and dismissed the case.
The charges were refiled, and before defense attorneys could again try to get the case tossed, prosecutors sought and won an indictment. Federal agents investigated Kocontes in 2008 when he tried to shift more than $1 million between various bank accounts with his third wife, according to prosecutors. Federal prosecutors eventually seized the money in a civil asset forfeiture case, but did not file a criminal case.
Orange County District Attorney's Office prosecutors argue they have jurisdiction because the murder conspiracy allegedly began when the defendant bought the cruise tickets in Orange County.