A judge sentenced a former Orange County attorney to life in prison without the possibility of parole Friday for the brutal murder of his ex-wife during a cruise through the Mediterranean Sea in 2006.
Lonni Loren Kocontes, 62, strangled the victim, Micki Kanesaki, and threw her overboard a cruise ship just days after the couple flew to Europe. Prosecutors said he killed her so he could collect more than $1 million from several bank accounts and the sale of their home, prosecutors said.
On May 27, 2006, less than a week after the divorced couple flew to Spain to board the cruise, 52-year-old Kanesaki’s body was found floating off the coast of Paola, Italy. She had fallen from a ship. But an autopsy revealed her cause of death was not drowning.
“Because she died before she hit the water, her lungs were filled with air — not water,” District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in a statement from his office. “So she floated. And by a miracle, her body was discovered.”
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department concluded her death was not an accident or suicide but the outcome of a grim murder plot executed by her ex-husband, the Los Angeles Times reported.
In February 2013, Kocontes was arrested in Safety Harbor, Fla. A grand jury indicted him about four months later. On June 15, Kocontes was convicted of one count of first-degree murder with a special circumstance enhancement of murder for financial gain.
According to prosecutors, he developed the plot to murder his wife while he was still in Orange County, which is why the crime was prosecuted there despite the fact that she died abroad.
They had been divorced since 2001 but reconnected shortly before their trip to Europe during the spring of 2006, the Times reported. On May 21, they flew to Spain and boarded a cruise. Kanesaki was last seen alive around 11 p.m. on the evening of May 25, according to prosecutors.
That day, they had taken a tour of the town of Messina, Italy earlier on and returned to the ship during the evening. Kocontes later reported his ex-wife missing.
He returned to California without her on May 27 and went to be with another woman, who he later married, prosecutors said. Investigators believe Kocontes killed Kanesaki sometime late at night on May 25, or during the early morning hours of the following day.
In 2008, Kocontes tried to transfer $1 million between bank accounts he held with his new
wife. The money transfers set off the suspicions of federal officials, and the FBI began investigating.
The DA’s office later seized the money from Kocontes’ bank accounts and federal prosecutors ultimately filed a civil asset forfeiture case to seize the funds.
During Kocontes’ trial attorney, his lawyers argued there is no physical evidence or witness directly tying him to the crime and said another ex-wife of Kocontes and other individuals testifying as witnesses against him were lying, according to the Orange County Register.
“Mr. Kocontes doesn’t know how Ms. Kanesaki died,” Gragg told jurors.
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