Diana and Daniel Cohen, who are mother and son, are behind bars for murdering their landlord, Gordon Smith, at his office in Capitola, California.
Smith worked as the skipper of a research vessel at the Long Marine Laboratory for over a decade before he owned Shearwater Property Management.
The 63-year-old rented out commercial, residential, and vacation buildings, which is how he crossed paths with Diana and Daniel.
He allowed the mother and son to rent a two-bedroom apartment in the 1700 block of Kinsley Avenue in Santa Cruz.
The company’s website described the apartment complex as “Live Oak neighborhood studios. Section 8 approved.”
Diana, 61, and her 30-year-old son lived on the second floor, where they allegedly caused problems with the neighbors below them.
The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported that Diana and Daniel would constantly leave their water running, and it would leak into the apartment below them.
When they complained to the property manager, Diana and Daniel called the police. They said their neighbors had a meth lab, but the police found no evidence to support their claim.
Smith tried to put an end to the prolonged feud between the two tenants, but he was unsuccessful. That’s when he offered the Cohens $4,000 to move out of the apartment by Oct. 31, 2013.
Every week, the offer would drop by $1,000.
At the beginning of November, Smith got into a heated argument with Daniel over the phone. Smith’s co-workers heard him saying, “You can’t keep breaking your promises.”
After they hung up, Smith said, “That guy doesn’t get it.”
When Diana and Daniel were later notified that Smith had started the process of evicting them, they went to a car dealership on Nov. 8, 2013, near Pacific Avenue and Front Street in Santa Cruz.
The mother and son acted as if they were interested in buying a Toyota Highlander so that they could test drive it.
Police officials said Diana drove off the lot and went to a storage unit, where her .357 revolver was located.
They then drove to Smith’s office, located on 41st Avenue in Capitola, where they waited in the parking lot for everyone to leave.
When they thought he was alone inside, Daniel entered the building and shot four times before fleeing the scene.
Diana and Daniel put the gun back in the storage unit, and then returned the car to the dealership later that day.
On Nov. 8, 2013, a co-worker found Smith’s body on the floor of his office. An autopsy showed that he was shot multiple times—twice in the head.
Three days later, Diana and Daniel were arrested on suspicion of murder. They were booked into the Santa Cruz County Jail, where they were held instead of posting a $1 million bond.
Arrest records showed that Diana listed “model” as her occupation, while Daniel claimed to have worked as a laborer.
During the three-month trial, witnesses testified that they saw Diana and Daniel waiting in the parking lot for hours. Investigators found their DNA on cigarette butts that they had left behind.
When law enforcement located the gun, they discovered that it had Daniel’s thumbprint on it, and his fingerprints were on a bullet cartridge.
There was also blood on one of his shoes.
While behind bars, Diana wrote an incriminating letter to her son, which was confiscated by jail officers.
Diana was referring to the gun when she wrote, “I think about why the (expletive) didn’t we toss that (expletive)? This crime was done so immachor [sic], ‘kid like.’”
On Jan. 22, 2016, Diana and Daniel were found guilty of first-degree murder with special circumstances of lying in wait.
Daniel was also convicted of the personal use of a firearm.
Assistant District Attorney Celia Rowland said, “These verdicts came as the result of hard work by the Capitola Police Department, the District Attorney’s Office, as well as representatives of almost every law enforcement agency in the county.”
“It is an extraordinary example of teamwork at its best. We are also grateful for the efforts and dedication of the jury members throughout the trial.”
“After this senseless murder, it is my hope that these verdicts can provide closure to those close to Gordon Smith as well as the Santa Cruz community as a whole.”
In April 2016, Diana and Daniel were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.