Attorney blames victim for near-death beating

KEALAKEKUA — A defense attorney representing one of three individuals charged in the attempted murder of a hotel security guard placed the blame on the victim, calling him the aggressor and responsible for the brutal beating he endured.

The jury trial for Wesley Samoa, Natisha Tautalatasi and Lama Lauvao, accused of attacking Kona Seaside Hotel security guard John Kanui, began Thursday afternoon with opening statements by the prosecution and defense.

The charge stems from an incident that occurred early Sept. 17, 2018, when Samoa, Tautalatasi, and Lauvao allegedly got into an altercation with the victim while in the parking lot at the hotel off Palani Road.

Hotel video surveillance of the incident shows Samoa, Tautalatasi and Lauvao along with a fourth person, later identified as Mahealani Kanehailua, chatting outside the hotel when the security guard pulls up in a golf cart. After what appeared to be an exchange of words, the video shows the three suspects pull the guard out of the cart and repeatedly kick and punch him in the head, back and stomach.

Following the assault, Kanui was airlifted to The Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu. He suffered a cervical spine fracture. The victim was later moved to a mainland hospital for further treatment.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Sheri Lawson opened by telling the jury that evidence will show that the three defendants acted with intent to kill Kanui. She portrayed Kanui as an active, fit, 62-year-old man who worked the night shift at the hotel and spent a lot of time on the ocean when he wasn’t working.

That night, an otherwise quiet, normal night, Kanui checked on a complaint of loud music coming from an SUV in the parking lot.

“He went to do his job,” Lawson said.

She continued that the surveillance video that will be played during the trial will show the defendants swarming Kanui, punching and attacking him multiple times. And when he lies on the ground motionless, she said, they “mobbed him again and beat him over and over and over again.” After they stopped, about a minute lapsed before they did it again, throwing punches and kicks while he lay motionless on the ground.

“They broke his neck, he is paralyzed. He cannot testify here, but you will see what happened to him. The video is evidence and other evidence will show an attempt to kill,” concluded Lawson.

Barry Sooalo, defense attorney for Samoa, addressed the jury next, portraying the three defendants as having had a peaceful goodbye as Samoa and Kanehailua were dropping Tautalatasi and Lauvao off at the hotel.

In Sooalo’s version of events, Kanui came up to the group and words were exchanged, but since there is no audio on the surveillance video it is unknown what was said. Sooalo then said that Kanui blocked their exit, and that he was the aggressor and caused all of the problems by preventing the group from leaving.

The defense attorney claimed that at some time during the confrontation Kanui struck Tautalatasi leading to the escalation of events. Again, Sooalo stresseed that Kanui was the aggressor and responsible party, “preventing peaceful people from leaving,” and Samoa was just coming to the aid of Tautalatasi.

Sooalo then posed the possibility that the serious injuries Kanui suffered came when the hotel clerk arrived and after seeing Kanui on his back “shoved him forcefully on his side.”

He went on to say the EMTs handled Kanui roughly.

“Did it cause injuries as opposed to what Wesley Samoa did? If there were life-threatening injuries, Wesley Samoa did not cause them,” Sooalo said.

Lavao’s defense attorney, Andrew Kennedy, also addressed the jury.

“There are two sides to every story. This story has four sides,” he said.

Kennedy went on to tell the jury that Lavao did assault Kanui, but he never acted in a manner to cause death.

He explained that the three defendants and Kanehailua were drinking all day. When the confrontation happened in the parking lot of the hotel, Kennedy told the jury that his client tried to defuse the situation by getting between Kanui and Samoa, and only hit Kanui when the guard pulled Tautalatasi to the ground.

“It’s a bad video, but it doesn’t show attempted murder. Lama is not making excuses, he knows he was wrong,” Kennedy said.

Tautalatasi’s attorney, William Reece did not provide an opening statement.

Kanehailua, of Kona, was indicted in November by a Big Island grand jury on a charge of attempted first-degree hindering prosecution in connection with the September incident. She was acquitted of the charge following a bench trial in May.

The jury trial continues Tuesday in 3rd Circuit Court before Judge Melvin Fujino.

By LAURA RUMINSKI West Hawaii Today

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