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A former attorney was found guilty this week in a California court of strangling his ex-wife during a cruise and then throwing her body overboard — all for financial gain, prosecutors said.
Lonnie Loren Kocontes, a 62-year-old resident of Safety Harbor, Florida, was convicted Monday on one count of first-degree murder with a special circumstances enhancement of murder for financial gain in the 2006 killing of his ex-wife, 52-year-old Micki Kanesaki, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office announced in a press release.
Kocontes murdered Kanesaki over 14 years ago during a cruise around the Mediterranean, authorities said. The pair took a flight to Spain together on May 21, 2006, where they boarded a cruise ship. A few days later, on May 25, Kocontes and Kanesaki left the ship for a planned tour of Messina, Italy, the release stated.
They returned to the ship later that day, where Kanesaki was last seen alive at around 11 p.m., officials said.
Authorities believe that Kocontes strangled Kanesaki on the ship and then threw her body overboard on either the night of May 25 — when Kanesaki was last seen alive — or early the following morning, according to the release. Kocontes then reported her missing and returned to California on May 27. That very same day, Kanesaki’s body was found in the ocean near Paola, Italy.
Kocontes was not charged in the killing until nearly 10 years later, when he was indicted by a grand jury on June 14, 2013 for Kanesaki’s murder. He was arrested in Safety Harbor, Fla. that February according to officials.
Authorities claimed that he killed Kanesaki for financial gain — as he was the beneficiary of their joint bank accounts and stood to pocket the money gained from selling their home.
Authorities took a closer look at Kocontes after he tried to transfer $1 million in 2008 between various accounts he shared with a new wife, the release stated. The activity was flagged as possibly being illegal, and the United States Attorney's Office later seized the funds from Kocontes’ accounts, officials said.
The office then filed a civil asset forfeiture case in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
Kocontes has repeatedly denied killing his partner. At the time of the cruise, he and Kanesaki had already been divorced, and Kocontes had gotten married and divorced again. However, Kocontes and Kanesaki had gotten back together by the time of the cruise and planned to get married again, he claimed under oath, according to the Los Angeles Times. He told authorities that he took a sleeping pill on the night of Kanesaki’s disappearance and woke up to find his partner gone.
“I absolutely did not kill my wife,” Kocontes said, according to the Times.
However, officials say that an autopsy report led to the truth of Kanesaki’s death: Despite being found dead in the ocean, she did not have water in her lungs and was likely dead before she fell into the ocean.
“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 in a press release. “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.”
“He chose the ship, he chose the balcony room and now the judge will decide his fate,” Spitzer continued.
Kocontes faces life without the possibility of parole, and is scheduled to be sentenced on September 18, according to officials.
Kocontes is also facing charges for alleged crimes involving his third wife. While she initially testified in Kocontes’ defense when he was a suspect in Kanesaki’s death, she later changed her story, which may have factored into his 2013 arrest, PEOPLE reported.
While in custody, Kocontes allegedly attempted to hire two fellow inmates to force his wife to sign a letter recanting her second testimony. He also allegedly instructed the inmates to kill her afterward.
His alleged plot was foiled after one of the inmates reported the crime. Kocontes was charged with two counts of solicitation to commit murder and one count of solicitation to bribe a witness.
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