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Conviction upheld for inmate in Alpine murder-for-hire plot

Posted at 9:44 AM, Nov 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-24 12:44:19-05

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The California Supreme Court on Monday upheld the conviction of a death row inmate found guilty of hiring another man to shoot and kill his fiancee in Alpine 20 years ago.

Michael William Flinner applied for a life insurance policy for 18-year-old Tamra Keck, then arranged for his former employee, Haron Ontiveros, to kill her on June 11, 2000, according to the ruling.

The killing occurred shortly after Flinner met Keck and began dating her.

According to the ruling, Flinner named himself as the beneficiary in the insurance policy, and falsely alleged Keck was an employee at his landscaping business whose death would cause him to suffer financially. Prosecutors alleged Flinner arranged for Ontiveros to meet with Keck at a gas station, then direct her to his car in a nearby cul-de-sac under the guise of having engine trouble. Once there, he shot Keck in the back of the head.

Separate juries convicted Flinner and Ontiveros of murder and conspiracy and found true special circumstance allegations of killing for financial gain and lying in wait. Jurors recommended capital punishment for Flinner and life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for Ontiveros.

In the appeal, Flinner's counsel alleged his case was adversely affected by issues that included limited access to defense counsel, which was allegedly restricted by Flinner's relocation from the downtown San Diego jail to the jail in Vista. Flinner's defense attorney at the time claimed the distance to Vista and other limits on telephone communication would hurt the defense's preparation for trial. According to the ruling, the relocation was implemented because Flinner obtained the home addresses of the prosecutor and trial judge through another inmate.

The state Supreme Court found the claims had no merit, as the trial court permitted increased communication between Flinner and the defense team at the defense's request.

Another claim alleged juror misconduct by one panelist who sought to write a book about the trial. Flinner's counsel alleged her objectivity may have been compromised as a result. The state Supreme Court disagreed, though it noted the juror had made misconduct claims about other panelists, which the high court also ultimately ruled were unfounded.