Danny Garcia, 28, an alleged mastermind of a purported plot to murder Palm Springs retiree Clifford Lambert and loot his assets
won a reprieve this morning. A judge granted his request for several more months to prepare for trial by declaring a mistrial, according to Riverside County Court records.
In a telephone interview from jail last week, Garcia told SF Weekly
he planned to assert at trial that Lambert, who disappeared in December, 2008, was not murdered, but rather alive in Mexico. Now Garcia, who is defending himself in court, has until at least next January -- his next hearing date -- to send an investigator after the purportedly living victim.
"There's an alternative here. He is still alive" Garcia said, in reference to Lambert. "The prosecution has never attempted to find out whether he's in a Mexican prison. They've ruled out any possibilities other than he's definitively dead, and are not willing to investigate whether this is actually a murder."
According to Riverside County detectives and prosecutors, on Dec. 5, 2008 a group of San Francisco conspirators, allegedly led by Garcia and 27-year-old Nepalese immigrant Kaushal Niroula, purportedly stabbed the 74-year-old Lambert to death. They subsequently attempted a fraudulent sale of his Palm Springs house.
Prosecutors have been aided by the 2009 confession of purported knife man Craig McCarthy, who pleaded guilty last month to charges of robbery and accessory to murder. According to a detective's account of McCarthy's confession, McCarthy and accomplice Miiguel Bustamante, along with reputed con man Niroula, held and stabbed Lambert in the victim's Palm Springs home.
Detectives found a string of charges on Lambert's bank cards by Garcia during the weeks leading up to the purported victim's disappearance.
In his SF Weekly
Garcia said he had fallen out with Niroula long before the alleged murder, and that Garcia had befriended Lambert to help the old man, not to exploit and murder him.
As for Niroula, Garcia claims, the Nepalese immigrant was a con man, not a murderer.
Niroula has become a legend for a string of alleged cons that included purportedly snookering the president of now-defunct New College of California, igniting events that led to the college's collapse; purportedly swindling $500,000 from a Japanese woman; conning a Peninsula art collector out of half a million dollars
; and running a Nov. 2008 Rincon Hill condo loan swindle worth $2 million.
But while Niroula may be serial a mountebank, he's no murderer, Garcia said.
"I know the pattern of what Niroula does," Garcia said. "To me, it's a bit of a stretch to say he went from being a con man to a cold-blooded killer."
The alleged murderers were purported to have fraudulently sold Lambert's home for less than $300,000. Niroula wouldn't dirty his hands for such chump change, Garcia claims.
"There simply wasn't enough money involved to make it worth Mr. Niroula's time to cross that threshold, in my opinion," Garcia said. "A month later they pulled off a $9.7 million scam in San Francisco involving $2.2 million in hard money loans against $7 million worth of property. He dealt with much larger numbers. Without having to resort to violence, the most logical answer points to a scenario where Mr. Lambert probably fell victim to a fraud attempt by Mr. Niroula, and either on his own, or with assistance, went to Mexico."
Garcia now has three months to prove his purported victim is actually alive.
Update: Jessica Davis, with City News service, reports that Niroula, who is also defending himself, has also been granted new trial so that he can have more time to prepare.
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