KEALAKEKUA — Several photographs and pieces of evidence were presented to a jury on the first day of trial for two brothers accused of murder and conspiracy.
On Tuesday, Deputy Prosecutor Sheri Lawson and defense counselors Wendy DeWeese and Terri Fujioka-Lilley provided opening statements in 3rd Circuit Court. DeWeese represents Marlon Miranda-Garcia and Fujioka-Lilley represents his older brother, Eber.
The Miranda-Garcias are on trial for the murder of Dolores “Lolo” Borja-Valle, who was found dead in a Captain Cook coffee field off Keopuka Mauka Road on Aug. 9, 2015. They are facing charges of second-degree murder and second-degree conspiracy to commit murder.
The brothers pleaded not guilty in 3rd Circuit Court on Sept. 7, 2017, after their arrest in June. They have remained in jail on $500,000 bail each.
“This case is about technology and words,” Lawson told the jury Tuesday. “The statements in the case will tell you what happened to Lolo.”
Lawson said detectives will tell the jury about DNA evidence collected.
“This investigation took time,” she said. “Technology is what led to a break in the case.”
Lawson said police had three scenes: the first was where Lolo’s body was found on Keopuka Mauka Road. The second was his home in Holualoa and the third was Prince Kuhio Boulevard in Ka‘u where police recovered Lolo’s truck.
Lawson added that detectives had phone numbers from the brothers when they were interviewed at the time Lolo was found as they were tenants at Lolo’s Holualoa home. Detectives used the timeframe of when Lolo was last seen on Aug. 8, 2015, given to them by Eber and his wife to narrow down their search as they identified numbers connected to the towers.
Those phone numbers were found to be connected to cell towers near Keopuka Mauka Road and Prince Kuhio Boulevard the night Lolo disappeared.
“You will hear Eber tell detectives how he beat Lolo,” Lawson told the jury.
Lawson added that Eber Miranda-Garcia was mad at Lolo because he threatened to take his family away and have him deported.
“Smoke and mirrors,” DeWeese said during her opening statement. “You will hear no evidence linking Marlon to the crime. You won’t hear about any DNA from Marlon because there wasn’t any.”
DeWeese told the jury they wouldn’t find a murder weapon and they wouldn’t hear about signs of a struggle.
“Marlon had no motive to kill Mr. Borja-Valle,” she said.
DeWeese did say that they would hear about Marlon Miranda-Garcia’s cellphone.
“We’re not talking about tracking a cellphone,” DeWeese stated.
She added that the cellphone connected to towers in the coverage area, but jurors won’t see the content of the texts or who was using that phone.
“There were 45 other phone numbers connected at that time,” DeWeese said.
To wrap up her statement, DeWeese told jurors that they would hear no evidence that Marlon caused Lolo’s death.
“Don’t be fooled by the illusion,” she said.
Fujioka-Lilley was last to present her opening statement.
“This case does involve a gruesome murder – something you don’t think would ever happen here on the island,” she told the jury.
In this trial, Fujioka-Lilley said, jurors won’t learn when Lolo was killed.
“Most importantly, we won’t know who killed Lolo,” she said.
Fujioka-Lilley said local police believe they found DNA evidence of Eber Miranda-Garcia in Lolo’s truck and on the butt of a rifle found at the scene where his body was found.
She added DNA testing done at the Honolulu crime lab was inconclusive.
“They paid a bunch of money to a private lab on the mainland to get the result they wanted,” Fujioka-Lilley said.
Fujioka-Lilley also addressed Eber Miranda-Garcia’s confession to police. She agreed it was an important piece of evidence in the trial.
“He didn’t know Lolo had been stabbed,” she said. “He didn’t know Lolo had been laid out in that coffee field.”
After opening statements, Lawson called retired Hawaii Police Detective Walter Ah Mow to the stand. He was the lead detective at the time Lolo’s body was discovered.
Ah Mow identified several photos from the scene where the body was found and pictures of Lolo’s injuries, taken during the autopsy on Aug. 11, 2015.
Pictures were taken of the road and embankment as well as Lolo’s body. Evidence collected at the time were two white blankets, a black trash bag that covered the top portion of Lolo’s body, a rifle, a piece of purple rope and a McDonald’s receipt.
Lawson submitted all pieces of evidence to the court and with the assistance of Ah Mow, displayed the physical evidence to the jury.
“At first we had no suspects and no witnesses,” Ah Mow told the court. “We had nothing to go on in that first onset.”
With each photo, Lawson asked Ah Mow if it was a “fair and accurate representation of what he observed.”
The retired detective responded, “yes” each time.
Ah Mow described Lolo’s body as it was found on Keopuka Mauka Road. The 69-year-old’s arms were raised above his head as if someone had carried him and he was in a state of rigor mortis.
Ah Mow also noted trauma to Lolo’s facial area.
Because of the lack of blood at the scene, Ah Mow testified, that the crime could not have happened on Keopuka Mauka Road. Detectives eventually suspected Lolo was killed at his home in Holualoa.
Ah Mow was present when the autopsy was performed at Kona Community Hospital on Aug. 11, 2015. Photos submitted to the court showed extensive injuries to Lolo’s head and face.
An injury behind the right ear became of interest because, Ah Mow said, it appears something penetrated his skull and into his brain.
Lawson presented photos of Lolo’s Holualoa home into evidence.
Ah Mow said a search warrant was served at Lolo’s home on Aug. 11 in Holualoa off Mamalahoa Highway. A warrant was also prepared for his truck, which was located on Aug. 10 when a report of a suspicious vehicle on Prince Kuhio Boulevard came through to police.
Ah Mow testified that police first made contact with residents at Lolo’s home on Aug. 10 as they worked to positively identify him. The tenants they came into contact with were Eber Miranda-Garcia and his wife Jessilyn Lokelani Hoohuli. Police didn’t know of Marlon or a third brother, Himer at that time.
Ah Mow told the court there appeared to be no signs of a struggle inside the residence. However, there were blood stains discovered in the carport.
The day ended with Ah Mow explaining pictures of the Holualoa property to the court. Trial is scheduled to resume Thursday morning.