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Former Irvine Attorney Convicted Of Murdering Ex-Wife, Throwing Her Body Off Mediterranean Cruise Ship

SANTA ANA (CBSLA) — A former Irvine attorney was convicted Monday of murdering his ex-wife and throwing her body overboard during a Mediterranean cruise in 2006.

lonnie kocontes
(credit: Orange County Sheriff's Department)

Lonnie Loren Kocontes, 62, was convicted of murder with a special circumstances allegation of murder for financial gain in the killing of 52-year-old Micki Kanesaki. Kanesaki's body was recovered by the crew of a research vessel on May 27, 2006 in the Mediterranean Sea near Italy.

An autopsy showed Kanesaki's lungs "were completely free of water'' and she had "severe hemorrhaging around her neck,'' which was "consistent with strangulation." The pathologist, Dr. Pietrantonio Ricci told investigators that the victim also sustained a skull fracture or hemorrhaging in her brain.

A defense attorney said Kanesaki's injuries were consistent with a fall from a cruise ship.

Kocontes "almost got away with the perfect crime,'' Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said after the verdict was handed down.

He said the defendant strangled the victim before throwing her overboard, so there was no way for her lungs to fill up with water and the body floated instead of sinking, allowing it to be found.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Susan Price said the couple divorced in 2002 after seven years of marriage, even though they continued to live together in Ladera Ranch as they worked to split up their assets. The same year they divorced, Kocontes met a woman, Amy Nguyen, through a dating website in 2002 and had an intimate relationship with her while still living with Kanesaki, who was unaware of the affair, Price said.

Kocontes married Nguyen in Las Vegas in 2005 and the couple moved in together in Orange. Price said in September of that year, Kocontes filed a motion in court to force Kanesaki to sell their Ladera Ranch home, which she did not want to do. Eventually, Kocontes dropped the issue, left Nguyen and moved back in with Kanesaki, but told Nguyen he loved her and did not want to leave her, the prosecutor said. Kocontes then had new wills drawn up for himself and Kanesaki, according to Price, who said Kocontes was named as executor of his ex-wife's estate.

Price said Kocontes soon began acting out of character — he made plans with Kanesaki to go on a cruise, which was unusual for him because did not vacation frequently and was known for his thriftiness. He also asked his best friend — a private investigator and retired cop, about security like surveillance cameras on cruise ships, according to Price. Kocontes also opted for a route not typically taken by Americans because it required flights to Minnesota, then London, before boarding the ship in Spain, Price said. On the ship, Kocontes "specifically asked for a balcony room. It was very important to him," the prosecutor said.

Kocontes told investigators he woke up early the morning of May 26, 2006 and realized she was missing, and that she may have gotten nauseous from the wine they drank earlier in the evening and fell overboard, the prosecutor said. The morning before his ex-wife's body was found, Kocontes left the Naples and traveled home -- but instead of returning to Ladera Ranch, he went to the home of Nguyen and resumed his intimate relationship with her, Price said.

The murder trial began in February and was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kocontes is also awaiting trail on a charge of attempting to solicit the murder of Nguyen, who Price said lied to a federal grand jury on Kocontes' behalf.

Kocontes, who is facing life in prison without the possibility of parole, is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 18.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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