INDIO — A Northern California man convicted of murder, conspiracy and other charges stemming from the 2008 financially motivated killing of a Palm Springs retiree was sentenced Friday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Kaushal Niroula was convicted Sept. 7, along with co-defendant Daniel Carlos Garcia, of the stabbing death of 74-year-old Clifford Lambert, who was attacked in the kitchen of his Palm Springs home on Dec. 5, 2008, and buried in the desert.
Niroula, 31, and Garcia, 30, both represented themselves during the trial, which started June 25. They were the last of six defendants to be prosecuted in the case; the other four were convicted or pleaded guilty.
“I just think it’s about time Mr. Lambert gets some justice and I think life in prison without parole is the most appropriate sentence for this man,” Deputy District Attorney Lisa DiMaria said before Riverside County Superior Court Judge David B. Downing handed down his sentence.
People in the audience, including some of the jurors who convicted Garcia, applauded.
DiMaria noted that Lambert had no living relatives, “and that’s one reason the people believe he (Niroula) preyed on this innocent man.”
Downing said Niroula and the other men charged in the case “were involved in a conspiracy to take everything (Lambert) owned. At some point, their conspiracy … ripened into a plan to kill Mr. Lambert and take everything he owned.”
Downing said that when Lambert was stabbed to death, “Mr. Niroula was either standing there or was in the next room.”
“Mr. Niroula orchestrated … the killing of Mr. Lambert,” the judge said.
He said Niroula and the others “stole every single thing Mr. Lambert owned … they looted his bank account, and even took his dog. That’s what happened.”
Downing also ordered Niroula to pay $215,450 in restitution to Lambert’s estate.
“You and your co-criminals took everything from Mr. Lambert, including his life … so I have to impose that (order for restitution), and in this case I relish it,” Downing told Niroula, who objected to the amount.
When Downing concluded the proceedings, there was more applause.
“As long as these guys don’t get out ever again,” Bob Buck, who served as an alternate juror during the two-and-half-month trial, said outside court.
A juror, who gave her name only as Sharon, said the case’s outcome was “justice in the best way possible.”
Another juror said she was “glad it came out the way it did.”
“I was just thinking of Cliff the whole time,” she said.
In her closing argument during the trial, DiMaria said both Garcia and Niroula “had material and profound roles in the conspiracy and Mr. Lambert’s murder.”
Niroula argued that authorities relied on the testimony of co-defendant Craig McCarthy even though there was no physical evidence to support it. He also claimed the prosecution failed to prove that he sent text messages that were found in Garcia’s phone, including messages sent in September and October 2008 while Niroula was in jail in connection with another case.
DeMaria used the text messages to bolster the prosecution’s case that there was a conspiracy against Lambert.
David Replogle, a San Francisco attorney, and Miguel Bustamante were convicted in January 2011 of first-degree murder and eight other felony counts stemming from Lambert’s death, and both were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
McCarthy, Bustamante’s roommate, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in August 2010 and is scheduled to be sentenced in January. San Francisco art dealer Russell Manning pleaded guilty to fraud-related charges in the case in 2010 and was sentenced to five years in prison.
DiMaria said Garcia met Lambert online the spring before he died, and Lambert paid for Garcia to travel from Northern California to see him. Garcia’s visit didn’t go well and he left earlier than planned, charging Lambert’s credit card when he upgraded his plane ticket to first class, the prosecutor said at the beginning of the trial.
Text messages from Garcia’s phone showed he had contact information for Replogle, who had represented him at one point and became a friend, and Bustamante, a student and bartender in the Bay Area. Bustamante’s roommate was also dragged into the conspiracy, DiMaria said.
She said Garcia sent Lambert’s address and phone number to Niroula, and on Dec. 1, Replogle and Niroula flew to Burbank and drove to Palm Springs. The next day, Niroula posed as an attorney representing a wealthy New York family that had left Lambert money or valuable artwork in a will, the prosecutor said.
On Dec. 5, Niroula was at Lambert’s home, and at some point he let McCarthy and Bustamante into the house, the prosecutor said. McCarthy grabbed Lambert and held him at knifepoint in the kitchen, and Bustamante stabbed Lambert to death, DiMaria told jurors.
She said Niroula brought bedding into the kitchen so they could wrap up the body, while Bustamante and McCarthy cleaned up the blood.
They put Lambert’s body into the trunk of his own Mercedes-Benz, and Bustamante and McCarthy buried Lambert in the desert the next day, according to the prosecutor. They drove the car to the Bay Area, and Garcia started using Lambert’s debit card to withdraw money the same day, she said.
On Dec. 10, Niroula opened a Wells Fargo account with Replogle’s information, according to DiMaria. The next day, Replogle, posing as Lambert, gave art dealer Manning power of attorney over Lambert’s accounts, and Manning – - accompanied by Niroula — wired $185,000 from Lambert’s Palm Springs bank account to the newly opened Wells Fargo account, according to the prosecution.
On Dec. 12, Replogle — again posing as Lambert and accompanied by Niroula — met with a notary and forged four power of attorney documents, including a durable power of attorney that gave Manning power of attorney over Lambert’s entire estate, DiMaria said. The same day, Niroula transferred $30,000 into Bustamante’s account and Manning wrote a check to Replogle for more than $15,000, closing out Lambert’s account, she said.
Kaushal Niroula sentenced in Clifford Lambert killing
Six people convicted or pleaded guilty in financially motivated killing of Palm Springs retiree
Joy Juedes/City News Service
December 14, 2012
The Desert Sun