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Federal Judge Orders Return Of $1 Million To Cruise Ship Murder Suspect

November 27, 2012

Cruise ship injury attorneys are often called in to represent victims hurt or killed aboard cruise vessels. Accidents onboard cruise ships take place frequently, but a recent trial surrounding the alleged murder of a passenger has the FBI and a federal judge arguing over inconclusive evidence.

FBI agents in California have been trying to indict an Orange County lawyer whom they believe was behind his ex-wife’s murder. The agents believe the lawyer, Lonnie Kocontes, killed his ex-wife for financial gain while they were onboard an Italian cruise in 2006 and then tossed her body overboard near Naples. However, a federal judge in Orange County has addressed the FBI’s alleged lack of evidence against Kocontes and has ordered the agency to return to him over $1 million it confiscated following the death of Micki Kanesaki.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Marc L. Goldman granted Kocontes’ motion for pre-trial summary judgment for the return of his assets, claiming the FBI’s reasoning in the case was “circular.” According to court records, Kocontes and Kanesaki, a legal assistant, met while working at the same law firm in Los Angeles, married in 1995 and after struggling in their relationship, filed for divorce in 2000. However, they continued to live together.

There were police documents revealing Kanesaki physically abused Kocontes. She was arrested for battery twice and forced to attend an anger management class. The couple reconciled in 2005, and Kocontes, who also has a criminal record, booked an Island Escape cruise ship vacation in May 2006.

Court records show the couple boarded the vessel in Spain on May 23. Two nights later, as the cruise was headed toward Naples, the couple went to dinner, visited the ship’s casino and then went to a late comedy show. When they returned to their stateroom, each drank a glass of wine and Kocontes took an Ambien sleeping pill to help with jet lag. He claims he fell asleep after Kanesaki said she was going to the ship’s café for tea between midnight and 1 a.m. When he awoke around 4:30 a.m., he noticed Kanesaki’s bed had not been slept in and alerted the crew. Her body was discovered on May 28 off the coast of Italy.

An autopsy determined Kanesaki had likely been strangled to death, and the FBI believes Kocontes was to blame and did not deserve “criminally derived property” following the death of his ex-wife. However, Judge Goldman declared on Nov. 20, “There is no direct evidence that Kocontes murdered Kanesaki.”

Goldman also pointed out that as far as a history of physical abuse is concerned, it was Kanesaki that was found to have been physically violent, not her husband. He also said that Kocontes had access to a substantial portion of Kanesaki’s assets while she was alive, so the FBI’s belief that he murdered his ex-wife for financial gain was shot down.

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