A former attorney was convicted Monday of strangling his ex-wife then throwing her body overboard during a cruise in 2006 in order to inherit more than $1 million as the beneficiary of several bank accounts, officials said.
Lonni Loren Kocontes, 62, was convicted of one count of first-degree murder with a special circumstance enhancement of murder for financial gain in connection with the death of Micki Kanesaki, who was 52 at the time of her death.
Kocontes was arrested in February 2013 in Safety Harbor, Florida. He was indicted by a grand jury in June 2013.
On May 21, 2006, Kocontes and Kanesaki flew to Spain, where they boarded a cruise. Four days later, the pair took an excursion where they toured the town of Messina, Italy. Kanesaki was last seen alive about 11 p.m. that night, when the pair returned to the ship, officials said.
Investigators determined that Kocontes strangled Kanesaki late that night or early the following morning, and threw her body overboard. He later reported her missing, according to the DA’s Office.
Kocontes returned to California the following day, and Kanesaki’s body was soon discovered floating off the coast of Paola, Italy.
“The defendant thought he committed the perfect crime … But he made a mistake, ” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in a statement Monday. “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.”
Prosecutors alleged that Kocontes believed the body would be lost in international waters, the Orange County Register reported.
Kocontes and Kanesaki met in the 1990s while they both worked at a law firm in Los Angeles, the L.A. Times reported. Though they divorced in 2001, they reconnected before their trip.
“Kocontes was accused of financially benefiting from the victim’s murder by being the beneficiary of several of their bank accounts and property and receiving the proceeds from the sale of their home,” officials said in a news release.
In 2008, two years after Kanesaki died, Kocontes tried to transfer $1 million between various bank accounts which he held with his new wife.
Soon, the FBI started investigating the money transfer and the United States Attorney’s Office eventually seized the money from the accounts.
Another ex-wife, Amy Nguyen, testified that Kocontes told her he wanted to have Kanesaki killed on the ship, but that later Kocontes said he would “take matters into his own hands,” the Register reported.
Nguyen also testified that Kocontes told her that the victim had proof Kocontes had embezzled money from a client.
She alleged that Kocontes pressured her to lie to a federal grand jury in an effort to help end the FBI investigation against him, according to the newspaper.
Nguyen changed her story while testifying before an Orange County grand jury, which led to the murder charge, the Register reported.
The trial was delayed over questions about whether the DA’s Office could prosecute a crime that occurred in international waters, but was eventually allowed to move forward based on a theory that the killing was planned in Orange County.
While awaiting trial, Kocontes was also charged with trying to hire two inmates to kill Nguyen in order to prevent her from testifying in his murder trial.
Kocontes was set to be tried separately in that case, but it is unclear if prosecutors will proceed with that trial after the verdict in his special circumstances murder trial, according to the Register.
Kocontes is scheduled to be sentenced in the murder trial on Sept. 18. He faces life without the possibility of parole.
“He chose the ship, he chose the balcony room and now the judge will decide his fate,” Spitzer said.