Jury deadlocks over 2015 Newport Beach murder case

Anthony Thomas Garcia, 61, is accused of killing Abelardo Estacion, 81, in 2015 in Newport Beach.
(Courtesy of Orange County district attorney’s office)

Jurors deadlocked this week in the case of a man accused of breaking into the Newport Beach home of an elderly man and strangling him in his bed.

The jury split 6-6 Tuesday over the guilt of Anthony Thomas Garcia, who prosecutors accused of asphyxiating Abelardo “Abby” Estacion, 81, in April 2015, prompting Orange County Superior Court Judge Sheila Hanson to declare a mistrial.

The case has complex familial and financial layers. Estacion had a partner of roughly 25 years who became his wife weeks before his death. The wife, Dortha Lamb, owned property in Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, San Clemente and San Bernardino County and had hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank.

But relations between Estacion and his in-laws were tense, according to court documents. Lamb had dementia and terminal cancer at the time of their marriage, and her daughter had just secured a court-granted conservatorship around the same time.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Whitney Bokosky told jurors in her closing argument that Garcia, who worked as a handyman for Lamb’s daughter, told one of her tenants that he wanted to kill Estacion. Garcia, now 61, was also the longtime partner of Lamb’s granddaughter and lived with her in Carson City, Nev., near Reno.

There were no signs of forced entry by an intruder into the victim’s home the night of the killing, the prosecutor said, because the killer “knew how to get in,” referring to Garcia’s handyman job.

“The defendant has the motive,’' Bokosky said. “He was angry at Mr. Estacion.”

Early in the morning of April 11, 2015, investigators said, someone entered the 16th Street home — Lamb was staying out of town with her family, per the conservatorship — and killed Estacion in his bedroom while his live-in caretaker slept upstairs. The caretaker went downstairs in the morning to make breakfast and discovered Estacion’s body in bed, with a bloodied face.

An autopsy revealed pinpoints of blood in his eyes and pooling blood and a broken bone in his neck. His nose, lips and left eye were swollen and he had what appeared to be defensive wounds on his arms, according to police.

Garcia was arrested in July 2016 in Carson City and extradited to Orange County.

Bokosky alleged that Garcia attempted to establish a phony alibi by leaving his cell phone with his adult daughter in Nevada while he drove to Newport Beach to kill Estacion. The daughter denied the scheme.

Garcia’s attorney, Alisha Montoro, told jurors that Bokosky was “desperate” because “things didn’t go her way so she’s making things up.”

“There’s no evidence (Garcia) was in Newport Beach” at the time of the killing, Montoro said. “In fact, the evidence is to the contrary.”

Bokosky countered that cell phone records showed the defendant’s phone was in Nevada, “not him.”

Lamb’s family had accused Estacion of theft and abuse against her for years. The day before his death, Lamb’s relatives tried unsuccessfully to get a protective order to remove him from the Newport Heights home he shared with her.

The daughter who secured the conservatorship had been her mother’s sole heir, but Estacion and his wife amended Lamb’s trust, diminishing the daughter’s inheritance, investigators said. Lamb died in June 2015 at age 94.

Montoro claimed Estacion took advantage of Lamb’s dementia and “took her to be married when she did not know what was going on ... to keep control of her finances.’'

Estacion lived on a meager Social Security income, but Lamb was a “self-made woman’’ who had amassed rental property worth millions of dollars, Montoro said.

“He waited until she got sicker and sicker and added his name to more and more of her accounts,” the defense attorney said. “The sicker she got, the more money and property he took.”

Jurors began deliberating last Wednesday, but had to start again on Monday when a juror was excused and an alternate was sworn in.

A hearing was set for Aug. 28 to determine how to proceed.

Garcia was charged with murder, with a special circumstances allegation of murder for financial gain, and would face life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted of killing Estacion.

City News Service contributed to this report.

Support our coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.