Kaushal Niroula sentenced to life in prison without parole
A Northern California man convicted of murder, conspiracy and other charges stemming from the 2008 financially motivated killing of a Palm Springs retiree was sentenced Friday in an Indio courtroom to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Kaushal Niroula was convicted on Sept. 7 with co-defendant Daniel Carlos Garcia of the stabbing death of 74-year-old Clifford Lambert, who was attacked in the kitchen of his Palm Springs home on Dec. 5, 2008, and buried in the desert.
Garcia was sentenced in October to life in prison without the possibility of parole, and Niroula faces the same sentence today.
Niroula, 31, and Garcia, 30, both represented themselves during the trial, which started on June 25. They were the last of six defendants to be prosecuted in the case; the other four were convicted or pleaded guilty.
In her closing argument during the trial, Deputy District Attorney Lisa DiMaria said it was "time for this criminal enterprise to end."
"Both of these men had material and profound roles in the conspiracy and Mr. Lambert's murder. Mr. Lambert deserves justice," she said.
Niroula said in his closing argument that authorities relied on the testimony of co-defendant Craig McCarthy even though there was no physical evidence to support it.
He said the prosecution failed to prove that he sent text messages that were found in Garcia's phone, including messages sent in September and October 2008 while Niroula was in jail in connection with another case. The prosecution used text messages allegedly sent between the two men to contend that there was a conspiracy against Lambert.
David Replogle, a San Francisco attorney, and Miguel Bustamante were convicted in January 2011 of first-degree murder and eight other felony counts stemming from Lambert's death, and both were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
McCarthy, Bustamante's roommate, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in August 2010 and is scheduled to be sentenced in January. San Francisco art dealer Russell Manning pleaded guilty to fraud-related charges in the case in 2010 and was sentenced to five years in prison.
DiMaria said Garcia met Lambert online the spring before he died, and Lambert paid for Garcia to travel from Northern California to see him. Garcia's visit didn't go well and he left earlier than planned, charging Lambert's credit card when he upgraded his plane ticket to first class, the prosecutor said at the beginning of the trial.
Text messages from Garcia's phone showed he had contact information for Replogle, who had represented him at one point and became a friend, and Bustamante, a student and bartender in the Bay Area. Bustamante's roommate was also dragged into the conspiracy, DiMaria said.
She said Garcia sent Lambert's address and phone number to Niroula, and on Dec. 1, Replogle and Niroula flew to Burbank and drove to Palm Springs. The next day, Niroula posed as an attorney representing a wealthy New York family that had left Lambert money or valuable artwork in a will, the prosecutor said.
On Dec. 5, Niroula was at Lambert's home, and at some point he let McCarthy and Bustamante into the house, the prosecutor said. McCarthy grabbed Lambert and held him at knifepoint in the kitchen, and Bustamante stabbed Lambert to death, DiMaria told jurors.
She said Niroula brought bedding into the kitchen so they could wrap up the body, while Bustamante and McCarthy cleaned up the blood.
They put Lambert's body into the trunk of his own Mercedes-Benz, and Bustamante and McCarthy buried Lambert in the desert the next day, according to the prosecutor. They drove the car to the Bay Area, and Garcia started using Lambert's debit card to withdraw money the same day, she alleged.
On Dec. 10, Niroula allegedly opened a Wells Fargo account with Replogle's information. The next day, Replogle, posing as Lambert, gave art dealer Manning power of attorney over Lambert's accounts, and Manning -- accompanied by Niroula -- wired $185,000 from Lambert's Palm Springs bank account to the newly opened Wells Fargo account, according to the prosecution.
On Dec. 12, Replogle -- again posing as Lambert and accompanied by Niroula -- met with a notary and forged four power of attorney documents, including a durable power of attorney that gave Manning power of attorney over Lambert's entire estate, DiMaria said. The same day, Niroula transferred $30,000 into Bustamante's account and Manning wrote a check to Replogle for more than $15,000, closing out Lambert's account, she said.
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