SANTA ANA – A jury deliberated for less than an hour June 15 before convicting an ex-lawyer of strangling his ex-wife and throwing her body overboard during a Mediterranean cruise 14 years ago.
He carried out the murder to inherit more than $1 million as the beneficiary of several bank accounts and the sale of the couple’s home.
Lonnie Loren Kocontes, 62, of Safety Harbor, Fla., was convicted on one count of first-degree murder with a special circumstances enhancement of murder for financial gain. He faces life without the possibility of parole. He is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 18.
The verdict came more than 14 years after the death of Kocontes’ ex-wife, Micki Kanesaki, while aboard a Mediterranean cruise in 2006.
Kocontes was indicted by a grand jury on June 14, 2013 for the murder of Kanesaki.
“The defendant thought he committed the perfect crime by throwing the victim overboard from the balcony of a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean,” said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer. “But he made a mistake. Despite all of his painstaking planning to pick the perfect ship, the perfect room and the perfect time to commit a murder, the fact that he strangled her before throwing her overboard gave us the very evidence to convict him of murder.
“She couldn’t breathe in water because she was dead long before her body ever hit the ocean and when authorities found her, her cause of death was determined to be asphyxiation – not drowning. He chose the ship, he chose the balcony room and now the judge will decide his fate.”
On May 21, 2006, Kocontes flew with Kanesaki to Spain and boarded a cruise. On May 25, 2006, the couple took a daytime excursion and toured the town of Messina, Italy. The couple returned to the ship and Kanesaki was last seen alive at approximately 11 p.m.
Late on the night of May 25, 2006, or early in the morning of May 26, 2006, Kocontes strangled Kanesaki to death and threw her body overboard into the ocean. He later reported his ex-wife missing.
On the morning of May 27, 2006, Kocontes returned to California. Kanesaki’s body was discovered floating off the coast of Paola, Italy, later that day.
Kocontes was accused of financially benefited from the victim’s murder by being the beneficiary of several of their bank accounts and property and receiving the proceeds from the sale of their home.
In 2008, Kocontes attempted to transfer $1 million between various bank accounts which he held with his new wife. The Federal Bureau began investigating the money transfers for possible illegal activity and the U.S. Attorney’s Office ultimately seized the money from Kocontes’ bank accounts. A civil asset forfeiture case was subsequently filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office filed the murder case against Kocontes on Feb. 13, 2013. OCSD, U.S. Marshals Florida Regional Fugitive Task Force, and Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department investigators arrested the defendant in Florida on Feb. 15, 2013.
Assistant District Attorney Susan Price and Senior Deputy District Attorney Seton Hunt of the Homicide Unit are prosecuting this case.
The victim’s brother, Toshi Kanesaki, told reporters, “I was kind of surprised. There are a lot of moving parts to this case. I didn’t think they could come to a verdict so soon… I was thinking worst-case scenario was a hung jury.”
Kanesaki said he was “relieved it’s over, for now.”