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Man accused of murder 7 years after ex-wife found dead

Lonnie Kocontes is arraigned in Orange County. Prosecutors say he threw his ex-wife off a ship off the Italian coast to gain more than $1 million.

June 17, 2013|By Mike Anton, Los Angeles Times
  • Micki Kanesaki's body was found in May 2006 in the sea off the Italian coast.
Micki Kanesaki's body was found in May 2006 in the sea off the Italian… (Orange County Sheriff's…)

Theirs was a messy marriage that ended in divorce. Five years later, their rocky relationship rekindled, the Orange County couple flew to Europe for a romantic cruise.

But on the morning of May 26, 2006, Lonnie Kocontes reported his ex-wife Micki Kanesaki missing to ship authorities. Her body was found a day later in the sea off the Italian coast.

"I wish I knew what happened," Kocontes told a reporter at the time. He added that his ex-wife could be an angry drunk and had talked about harming herself. "I can't rule suicide out," he said.

On Monday, Kocontes, 55, was arraigned in Orange County Superior Court, charged with murder for financial gain. Prosecutors allege that Kocontes strangled Kanesaki, who was 52 when she died, and tossed her overboard in a scheme that netted him more than $1 million.

Italian authorities investigated the case at the time and found no reason to hold Kocontes. He said the two had been in bed aboard the ship when Kanesaki left around 1 a.m. to get a cup of tea. He said he took a sleeping pill and discovered her missing when he awoke.

In 2008, the FBI began investigating various money transfers between banks made by Kocontes, who was the beneficiary of several of Kanesaki's bank accounts.

He also profited from the sale of the couple's home, authorities said. A year before the cruise, Kocontes asked a judge to force his ex-wife to sell the home, where she had been living since their divorce, so he could get his share of the assets.

When he didn't show up at a court hearing, the judge dismissed the case.

The U.S. Attorney's Office eventually seized the money through a court order and brought the case to the attention of the Orange County district attorney.

Orange County sheriff's investigators found additional evidence related to Kanesaki's death. Kocontes was arrested in February in Florida and was extradited to California for trial.

The fact that a crime committed half a world away is being tried in a U.S. court "isn't a common thing," said Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Susan Price.

"The crime commenced in California and culminated" on the ship, Price said. "Researching the cruise in California, buying the ticket in California, having them sent to you in California ... driving to the airport. Those represent intent and are preparatory acts" that give prosecutors jurisdiction in the case.

When she died, Kanesaki was facing a battery charge for allegedly kicking Kocontes in the leg a month before their cruise. She voluntarily enrolled in an anger management class and was attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

If convicted of her murder, Kocontes faces a minimum life sentence without possibility of parole. He also could face the death penalty.

mike.anton@latimes.com

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