INDIO (CNS) – A 40-year-old man was convicted again Wednesday of killing a Palm Springs retiree in a financial-enrichment scheme and dumping his body by Interstate 5 while en route to Daly City.
Jurors began deliberating May 18 and took a two-week break before continuing on June 5 and reaching a verdict Wednesday morning.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Anthony Villalobos read the jury’s verdict Wednesday afternoon at the Larson Justice Center in Indio. Miguel Bustamante was found guilty of one felony count each of murder, using personal identity information of another to obtain credit, forged instrument, conspiracy to commit a crime and grand theft over $950; two felony counts of burglary; and one misdemeanor count of unlawfully receiving stolen property. Jurors did not reach a decision on one count of burglary and the charge was dismissed.
Bustamante is set to be sentenced July 7 at the Larson Justice Center.
He was first convicted in 2011 with David Replogle, 74, for the Palm Springs killing of Clifford Lambert, resulting in sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole. However, they appealed their verdicts based on appeals successfully lodged by co-defendants Daniel Carlos Garcia, 40, and Kaushal Niroula, 41, who were convicted in 2012 and sentenced to life terms, but were granted new trials because of the behavior of the judge in the original trial. Niroula was killed at the Cois Byrd Detention Center on Sept. 6, 2022.
Replogle was convicted again on Aug. 11, 2022, of the same felony charges that Bustamante is charged with, and has yet to be sentenced.
Other co-defendants Russell Manning, who is now dead, and Craig McCarthy pleaded guilty in 2010 to felony charges.
Bustamante’s attorney, Bosky Kathuria, in wrapping up his closing argument, told jurors his client is presumed innocent, and contended that the prosecution failed to prove his client’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. He concluded by telling jurors a fictional story about rats deceiving villagers by falsely accusing a farmer of ruining their harvest.
“I ask you to reject the testimony of deceptive rats who attempt to frame an innocent, who have everything to gain and nothing to lose,” Kathuria said, challenging the accounts of witnesses in the trial. “I ask you now to respect Miguel’s presumption of innocence and find him not guilty of murder and not guilty of conspiracy to commit murder.”
Deputy District Attorney Robert Hightower rebutted, telling jurors how the defense jumped to paint Bustamante in a pitiful light now that he is on trial and trying to avoid culpability. He asked jurors to put an end to the “lies” and hold the defendant responsible for what he did.
“Everything he told police, everything he did was for one purpose, to save himself. … That testimony was pure selfishness, not compassion,” Hightower said. “Mr. Lambert was more than just something to be used by all of these people. This case was pure and concentrated evil.”
Prosecutors contend the six defendants teamed up to take advantage of and kill Lambert, who was stabbed in the kitchen of his Palm Springs home on Dec. 5, 2008, for financial gain.
“Sometimes the promise of a fortune will make a man risk it all,” Hightower told jurors.
He said Lambert was on an online dating site, where he met Garcia, who was living in San Francisco and allegedly utilized the victim’s credit card to upgrade his flights when flying out to see him.
Hightower then took jurors through a timeline of events between November 2008 and January 2009. On the day after Thanksgiving 2008, Replogle and Niroula flew from Burbank to Palm Springs in an effort to recruit Manning into the scheme, Hightower said. On Dec. 2, 2008, in an attempt to get access to Lambert, Niroula allegedly posed as an attorney and called Lambert to tell him he would be inheriting a large amount of money, then set up a meeting with him the following day.
In the meantime, McCarthy and Bustamante allegedly broke into Lambert’s home and armed themselves, but didn’t follow through with anything, so Niroula allegedly set up a second meeting at Lambert’s Palm Springs home for Dec. 5, 2008. Niroula excused himself and walked to the kitchen, where he allegedly let McCarthy and Bustamante in through a side door, the prosecutor said.
“Both of them are armed with knives and as they enter the kitchen, at some point Mr. Lambert comes out, sort of a `What’s going on’ type of moment, and Mr. Bustamante stabs Cliff Lambert with the assistance of Craig McCarthy,” Hightower alleged. “Once Mr. Lambert is dead, they clean up, they wrap Mr. Lambert up in a rug … they load Mr. Lambert in the trunk of the Mercedes and they leave with the dog as well.”
The following day, the two allegedly dumped Lambert’s body on the way to Daly City, which is near San Francisco, Hightower said. After two days, Lambert’s friend filed a missing person report, while Niroula and Replogle started to go into Lambert’s accounts to try to sell his home.
Parts of Lambert’s body started to be found in 2016, when pipeline workers found a jawbone along Templin Highway in Castaic, Hightower said. His skull was found near the same area in 2017.
“(Lambert) was a man who was simply seeking out someone for companionship, to care about him and to love him. Instead, what he met was pure evil,” Hightower said.
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