SANTA ANA – Orange County Superior Court Judge Richard King on Sept. 18 sentenced a former attorney to life without the possibility of parole for 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 in June of one count of first-degree murder with a special-circumstances enhancement of murder for financial gain. The People are pursuing restitution of nearly $1 million from Kocontes.
The sentencing 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 had planned the perfect crime and lured his prey to her death with a Mediterranean cruise,” said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer. “He picked the perfect ship, the perfect state room, and the perfect time to kill his ex-wife. And he almost got away with murder. Except for the fact that he strangled her to death before he threw her body overboard.
“Because she died before she hit the water, her lungs were filled with air, not water. So she floated. And by a miracle, her body was discovered. That miscalculation allowed us to convict him of murder.
“After 14 years, Micki Kanesaki’s family never gave up hope that this day would come and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office never gave up on achieving justice for Micki. “
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 benefitting 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 that he held with his new wife. The FBI 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 Safety Harbor 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 the defendant in court, “You, Lonnie, executed my younger sister on that Mediterranean cruise ship… You strangled Micki… then you threw her body overboard like trash… You are a vicious criminal, evil person, a cold-blooded killer, a sociopath.”
Kocontes, who attempted to accuse Toshi Kanesaki of “abandoning” his sister before being cut off by the judge, said, “I stood by Micki Kanesaki through significant periods of depression. I went to counseling with her… I did everything I could to help Micki Kanesaki to overcome her depression. I did not murder Micki Kanesaki.”