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December 14, 2018

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Can murder, attempted murder cases be untangled?

Prosecutors ask for combined trial for new-age healer; defense attorneys object

Candela home

Courtesy Clark County District Court

Ginger Candela, 44, was found dead in her home in the 3100 block of Westfield Street on Nov. 30 by missing persons detectives. Michael Lane, 37, is accused in her death.

Click to enlarge photo

Michael Lane

Click to enlarge photo

Ginger Candela

The state’s prosecution of a British man described as being a motivational speaker and new-age healer who is accused in the murder of a Las Vegas woman is moving forward. But an important question remains: Should jurors be told about his alleged involvement in another crime?

Prosecutors on Thursday asked a judge to combine the two pending cases against Michael Lane, 37.

He is accused in two crimes that prosecutors argue are inexorably linked: The murder of Ginger Candela, 44, whose body was found severed and stuffed in a trash can in her garage on Nov. 30, 2009, and the attempted murder of a transsexual authorities allege he solicited on Craigslist after Candela was killed but before her body was found.

Lane is facing charges of murder and robbery in connection with Candela’s death, as well as counts of attempted murder and battery resulting in substantial bodily harm in connection with the attack on the transsexual. All four counts are enhanced with a deadly weapon.

Lane’s attorneys say combining the two cases would prejudice the jurors deciding his fate — a fate prosecutors formally announced Thursday could be the death penalty.

•••

Lane was raised in London, but he spent time in Oregon and California — maybe even in the Philippines, possibly Spain — before coming to Las Vegas. He’s used different names — Chae Saville, Michael Bodhi, Michael Saville, and perhaps others, authorities have said.

Metro Police in December issued a warning about Lane, saying in a statement he “may have befriended numerous women, and possibly defrauded them without their knowledge.”

Police urged anyone who had contact with Lane while he was in Las Vegas to call them.

Court documents say Lane and Candela met in October in Anaheim, Calif., at a release party for the self-help book “Three Feet from Gold” by authors Sharon Lechter and Greg Reid. Lane was active in the Southern California new-age scene.

Candela, who had two grown daughters, lived alone with three pets, including a beloved Chihuahua, Gi Gi.

A few days after meeting Lane at the book release, she asked him to live with her as her “life coach” so he could help her sort through problems.

He moved Nov. 1 from California to Candela’s home in the 3100 block of Westfield Street.

But whatever problems were plaguing twice-divorced Candela, they wouldn’t be solved.

Later that month she was found inside a bleach-filled trash can in the garage of her home, her body cut in half and her remains encased in cement.

Lane, already suspected in an attack on a transsexual six days before detectives found Candela’s body, became the prime suspect in Candela’s death.

District Court Judge James Bixler heard arguments Thursday on combining the cases. Lane, wearing glasses with his brown hair long enough to be slicked back into a short ponytail, listened. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.

•••

Candela’s daughter, Tabatha, reported her mother missing Nov. 30. When police went to her home, they found a trash can in the garage filled with a murky green liquid and what they believed to be body parts.

The house was ransacked, and Candela’s SUV was nowhere to be found.

Investigators learned Candela’s vehicle had been involved in an attempted murder case. By then, the victim in that case had identified Lane from a photo lineup as her attacker. A warrant already had been issued for Lane’s arrest.

The Clark County Coroner’s Office identified Candela on Dec. 2, 2009, by using dental records. Her death was ruled a homicide, and the coroner's office said she died of strangulation with blunt force trauma as a contributing factor.

Lane was arrested the next day at a Motel 6 in Ventura, Calif., in connection with the Nov. 24, 2009, attack on the transsexual, who told police she contacted a man on Craigslist who identified himself as Michael.

The man, later identified as Michael Lane, and the woman arranged a meeting. He had said he was interested in meeting a transsexual male, the woman told police.

Lane picked the woman up in Candela’s maroon SUV and brought her to Candela’s home, where they were intimate, according to a police report.

After the woman asked for a ride home, a police report says, tempers flared.

There was a dispute over money. Lane stopped the vehicle near Sombrero Drive and Arabella Street and ordered her out of the vehicle, according to court documents.

As she was walking away, she heard the SUV accelerate. It came toward her at about 35 mph, she told police. The front of the vehicle struck her, knocking her through a fence and damaging the SUV’s bumper.

Lane then allegedly got out of the vehicle and punched her. Witnesses told police the vehicle had personalized South Dakota plates that read CHARIS.

The woman was taken to Sunrise Hospital and treated for injuries that included a broken collarbone, injured ribs and severe abrasions to her shins. Doctors told her that her heart might have been bruised in the altercation, because she had an irregular heartbeat.

The timeline of both cases indicates Candela, whose body was decomposing in the garage, would have been dead about 10 days when Lane and the transsexual were allegedly together in her bed.

•••

Prosecutors say Lane had an explanation for everything when he was interviewed after his arrest.

He told detectives the altercation with the transsexual had been a misunderstanding: He didn’t know she was really a man. When he tried to drive her home, she grabbed at the keys and ran. He said he accidentally hit her with the car to prevent her from escaping with the keys. He denied punching her, according to documents filed by prosecutors.

He told detectives he was staying with a friend named Ginger, who was away at a retreat in Mount Shasta, Calif. He said Ginger had given him permission to stay in her house and use her vehicle while she was gone.

When Lane was arrested, Candela’s Toyota 4Runner was at the motel. He had checked in using her identification and credit cards. Candela’s belongings were found in his room.

As his interview progressed, the Metro Police detectives who had gone to Ventura confronted Lane with receipts from Home Depot for a trash can, bleach, a tarp and an ax. They told Lane they found Candela’s body.

Lane reportedly used some Home Depot gift cards that belonged to Candela to buy the items.

Lane, court records indicate, sighed deeply. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. Then he began to explain.

About two weeks after moving into Candela’s home, the two were meditating in her bedroom. He told police that “something came over him” and he went into the kitchen and retrieved a large frying pan.

He struck her two or three times; he then used a cord from an electric blanket to strangle her and string her up to the bedposts, suspending her by her neck off the end of the bed until she was dead.

He put her in the backyard for a couple days while he figured out what to do with her body. Ultimately, he told police, he used a handsaw to cut her body in half to make her body fit better inside the trash can.

He weighed her down with cinder blocks to keep her from floating in the bleach.

The day he left for California, he added some bags of concrete.

•••

Bixler is set to issue his ruling March 25 on consolidating the two cases. For now, the two trials are set to run back-to-back beginning Jan. 6, 2011. Bixler said Thursday he didn’t want to be rash in issuing a decision. “I don’t want to try one case and then come back and try two cases down the road,” he said.

Lane’s court-appointed attorney, Dan Silverstein, agreed and urged Bixler to keep the cases separated. He argued vehemently against combining the two cases and for the indictments against his client to be dismissed. Bixler denied the motion for dismissal.

In response to the state’s motion seeking the death penalty against Lane, Silverstein argued further that Nevada’s death penalty statutes are unconstitutional.

Bixler said any argument at that level needed to presented to a higher authority and declined to strike the death penalty from the case.

“I’m not going to declare the death penalty in Nevada unconstitutional,” Bixler said.

With the motions to strike the death penalty and dismiss the indictments denied, the room of seasoned attorneys moved on to arguments about what Bixler called the “real thorny issue” of consolidation.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Robert Daskas cited issues of crossover evidence in urging the court to use its discretion to join the charges.

“In the 15 years I’ve been doing these cases, I would submit there haven’t been crimes more closely linked,” Daskas told Bixler. “Witnesses cannot describe one case without describing the other.”

Furthermore, he said, the investigations into both crimes overlapped.

“It is impossible to unravel these two cases; it can’t be done,” he said, adding that in his opinion, denying the motion for consolidation would be “inviting for a mistrial.”

Silverstein warned that combining the two cases would be unfairly prejudicial against his client.

“The state wants to show Mr. Lane has a propensity to commit violent acts. That is why they want these cases tried together,” Silverstein said. “They want to make it more likely that the jury will convict on one of the charges because of the other.”

Although Bixler declined to rule immediately on the arguments, he told the attorneys he was concerned about jurors being able to reach a decision if some facts were omitted for the sake of keeping two cases separate.

“How do you present the evidence of either of these crimes and black out any mention of the other matter in a way that makes any kind of sense to a fact-finder?” he said. “How do you address his confession when he... basically explains both crimes at the same time?”

Silverstein said the state wanted to use the arguably stronger case involving Candela’s murder to bolster their evidence in the attempted murder case. He said there was no part of Lane’s conversation with police in which he offers evidence of intent in the attempted murder of the transsexual.

Daskas said the cases are so closely linked it would be impossible try them separately.

“The defendant had sex with his attempt murder victim in his murder victim’s bed while she was cut in half in a garbage can yards away in the garage,” Daskas said. “He ran over his attempt murder victim with his murder victim’s car. These cannot, cannot be separated, and an attempt to do so is inviting a mistrial in both cases.”

Bixler said he intended to review all the case law supplied to him by the attorneys in their arguments before he reached a decision.

Lane is next due in court March 25. He is being held without bail in Clark County Detention Center.

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