Judge OKs Calif. prosecution in cruise ship death

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Authorities in California can prosecute a man charged with strangling his ex-wife and tossing her from a cruise ship in Italy, a judge ruled.

Superior Court Judge William Evans ruled Wednesday that California law doesn’t limit prosecutors to handling only cases in the state, the Orange County Register reported (http://bit.ly/15jUxFA).

“We believe the state of California has a significant interest in prosecuting this case because one of its residents was killed,” Orange County prosecutor Susan Price said.

Lonnie Kocontes, 55, of Safety Harbor, Fla., was arrested in February. He has pleaded not guilty to murder for financial gain and is seeking to have the charge dismissed.

He remained jailed and could face life in prison without possibility of parole if convicted.

Kocontes and Micki Kanesaki, 52, were divorced after six years of marriage but lived together on and off in Mission Viejo, Calif. They were sharing a cabin on the cruise in May 2006 when she went overboard in the Mediterranean.

Kocontes said he woke up on May 26 and couldn’t find her after a search, Andy Furlong, a spokesman for ship owner Island Cruises, said at the time.

Italian police boarded the ship, seized records and videotapes, and took statements from the crew but did not arrest Kocontes.

Prosecutors said Kocontes reported his ex-wife missing before returning to California on May 27 — the same day that her body washed up in Calabria in southwest Italy.

The arrest of Kocontes earlier this year ended an investigation that started in 2008, when he began transferring more than $1 million from Kanesaki’s bank accounts into joint accounts he held with his new wife, authorities said.

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Information from: The Orange County Register, http://www.ocregister.com

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