Murder trial begins for Sean Rutledge

  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Suzanna Jamison testifies Monday in Hilo Circuit Court.
  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Sean Rutledge, right, appears Monday with attorney Jeremy Butterfield in Hilo Circuit Court.

HILO — The prosecutor in a Puna murder trial described the case as “a dispute between a mother and son that took a deadly turn,” while the defense counsel conceded his client was mentally disturbed but said the evidence will show he didn’t kill his mother.

A jury of seven men and five women will decide the fate of Sean Rutledge, a 43-year-old former attorney accused of second-degree murder for the stabbing death of his 63-year-old mother, Nadean Rutledge, on Aug. 25, 2015, at her home on the corner of Kapoho Kai Drive and Wai‘opae Road in the recently lava inundated Kapoho Vacationland subdivision.

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In his opening statement, Deputy Prosecutor Kevin Hashizaki said that on the day of the murder, Sean Rutledge could be heard from inside the home ranting, “Everyone is gonna die. There is no love. Everyone is gonna pay.”

“This is not the first time they’ve heard those words come from the defendant’s mouth,” Hashizaki said.

Daniel Rutledge, another son of Nadean Rutledge, discovered her body on the side of the house after seeing a bin on top of a sheet and thinking the sheet seemed out of place.

“He lifts the sheet and sees his mom, lifeless, naked, lying amongst cans and bags of garbage,” Hashizaki said.

Hashizaki said Nadean Rutledge had been stabbed six times in the lower chest and abdomen, had facial injuries and a stab wound on her head, but it was one of two stab wounds in the back that pierced her aorta and caused her death, according to an autopsy.

Police issued an all-points bulletin for Sean Rutledge, who had left the home in his mother’s Toyota Camry, which was later found at Prince Kuhio Plaza in Hilo. He was found walking on the shoulder of Highway 130 toward Pahoa the following morning.

According to Hashizaki, detectives noted two long scratches on Rutledge’s left arm and dried blood on his right calf.

“That sample … matches the DNA profile of Nadean Rutledge,” Hashizaki said.

Brian De Lima, Rutledge’s court-appointed attorney, countered, “The evidence will establish that Sean Rutledge left the scene prior to Nadean Rutledge being murdered.”

He noted blood in the house, blood all over Nadean Rutledge’s body, and a pool of blood in the home’s driveway, but implied Sean Rutledge was too clean to have committed the crime.

“He had … dried blood on his calf,” De Lima said. “No blood on his clothing; no blood on his slippers. No blood in the vehicle that he drove away from the home.”

As he had in a previous murder trial this year that resulted in the acquittal of the defendant, De Lima told the jury police had conducted a sloppy investigation and didn’t use luminol, a chemical that detects blood traces after a scene has been cleaned.

“They never tested whether there was luminol blood in the house. They never tested for blood in the sink,” he said.

De Lima said three of four prosecution witnesses failed to identify Rutledge from a photographic lineup as the man they saw at the scene. He pointed to one prosecution witness as a suspect who should have been investigated, but wasn’t.

“Eleven detectives reported to the scene. Not one detective or investigator bothered to look to see if the decedent, Nadean Rutledge, had an active restraining order on anyone,” he said. “The evidence will show that the man that lived two doors down from Nadean Rutledge had a restraining order against him by Nadean Rutledge. The evidence will show that the restraining order was granted based on threats against Nadean Rutledge. … The person’s name was Lloyd Robertson, the person who said they … had called the police.”

De Lima said that, “interestingly,” prosecution witnesses “were never shown a photo of Lloyd Robertson.”

“Lloyd Robertson has hair and more closely matches the descriptions that were given of the person that was seen in the area,” he said.

Two prosecution witnesses, 16-year-old Rian Jamison and her mother, Suzanna Jamison, testified they heard a man and woman screaming at each other earlier. The Jamisons, who live in Washington state, were staying at a nearby vacation rental.

“I only heard one thing clearly, and that was ‘help me,’” Suzanna Jamison said. She testified it was the woman who said that, and the voices stopped shortly afterward.

She said she drove to Pahoa to get groceries, and her daughter said, “Mom, there’s a man running across the street with blood on his leg.”

Suzanna Jamison said she didn’t believe her daughter and didn’t stop, but both talked to police after seeing them at the Rutledge house the following day.

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Rian Jamison identifed Sean Rutledge as the man she had seen with “blood on his right calf.”

The trial continues today in the courtroom of Hilo Circuit Judge Henry Nakamoto.