Murder suspect trial set

  • Brian Smith appears with his attorney Jason Kwiat at a hearing Friday in 3rd Circuit Court. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KEALAKEKUA — A Honaunau man accused of murder has been deemed fit to stand trial, a 3rd Circuit Court judge ruled Friday.

Smith, 49, appeared in court wearing Hawaii Community Correctional Center garb. Unshackled and still using crutches to get around, Smith smiled and gave a “shaka” to five of his supporters who came to the hearing Friday.

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With no objections from the state or defense to the mental health exam conducted by a panel of three examiners, Judge Melvin H. Fujino resumed proceedings. Trial is now set for Jan. 8, 2019.

Smith is charged with second-degree murder, second-degree attempted murder, first-degree attempted murder, two counts of ownership or possession (firearm) prohibited and two counts of carrying or use of a firearm in the commission of a separate felony stemming from the June 23 incident that resulted in the fatal shooting of Thomas Ballesteros Jr. on Painted Church Road in Honaunau.

Ballesteros, 42, was found dead at the scene of the incident, having suffered an apparent gunshot wound to the head, according to the Hawaii Police Department. Two others, including Smith, suffered gunshot injuries but had fled the scene prior to law enforcement’s arrival. According to police, an altercation ensued prior to the shooting.

Police shortly thereafter located Smith and the other man and took them to Kona Community Hospital for treatment. Each was later flown to Oahu for further medical treatment. Both have since been released from care.

Smith pleaded not guilty to the offenses on July 20. At the time, he was being held in lieu of $1.15 million. His bail was raised after he was erroneously released from HCCC on July 24. When the court was advised July 26 of the release, a hearing was held and Fujino issued a $2 million bench warrant for Smith’s arrest. Smith was taken back into custody hours later after calling police from Captain Cook to turn himself in.

At that time, Fujino increased bail to $2 million, which Smith has been unable to post.

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Outside the courtroom on Halekii Street, Candi Baker, who emphasized she is a friend first and employer second, said she and about five others try to attend every court hearing to support Smith, whom they feel is “completely innocent.”

“Brian has worked for me for four years, since my husband passed away. He’s been friends with all of us for over 10 years,” said Baker. “He’s just really a good guy and we just don’t get it, so we’re here to let him know we’re not giving up on him.”

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