Ex-California attorney guilty of killing wife on cruise ship

State News

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A former Southern California lawyer was found guilty Monday of strangling his ex-wife and throwing her body off a cruise ship in the Mediterranean in 2006.

Jurors in federal court in Santa Ana deliberated for less than an hour before convicting Lonnie Loren Kocontes, 62, of Safety Harbor, Florida, the U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement.

He was convicted on first-degree murder with a special circumstances enhancement of murder for financial gain and faces life in prison without possibility of parole when he is sentenced in September.

Prosecutors said Kocontes killed his wife during a Mediterranean cruise in order to inherit more than $1 million from their bank accounts and the sale of a Ladera Ranch home they jointly owned.

Kocontes was divorced from Micki Kanesaki, had remarried and then divorced when he booked a cruise. Kocontes testified at trial that the couple had reconciled and were planning to remarry.

But Kocontes actually was scheming to kill Kanesaki, 52, and make it appear to be an accident, prosecutors said.

The cruise from Spain to Italy began on May 21, 2006, and Kanesaki was last seen alive the night of May 25, authorities said.

Kocontes reported his wife missing and returned to California. Her body was found floating off the coast of Paola, Italy, on May 27, prosecutors said.

An FBI investigation into possible illegal activity began in 2008 after Kocontes tried to transfer $1 million between various bank accounts, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. Kocontes was indicted for murder in 2013 and has been jailed since then.

At trial, Kocontes said he had taken a sleeping pill on the ship and woke to find Kanesaki missing.

“I absolutely did not kill my wife,” Kocontes said.

“The defendant thought he committed the perfect crime by throwing the victim overboard from the balcony of a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said. “But he made a mistake. Despite all of his painstaking planning to pick the perfect ship, the perfect room and the perfect time to commit a murder, the fact that he strangled her before throwing her overboard gave us the very evidence to convict him of murder.”

“She couldn’t breathe in water because she was dead long before her body ever hit the ocean and when authorities found her, her cause of death was determined to be asphyxiation – not drowning,” Spitzer said.

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