KAILUA-KONA — A jury trial for three individuals accused of beating a hotel security guard has been continued to July on the eve of jury selection.
On Monday, Wesley Samoa, Natisha Tautalatasi and Lama Lauvao appeared in 3rd Circuit Court after a motion was filed by Samoa’s court-appointed attorney, Deputy Public Defender Ann Datta, to withdraw as counsel.
“My client has asked me to withdraw as his counsel due to ineffective assistance of counsel, which creates a conflict of interest,” Datta stated in her motion.
Trial is now scheduled for July 9.
Samoa, 30, of Kona, along with Tautalatasi, 41, and Lauvao, 30, both of Honolulu, are each charged with second-degree attempted murder in connection with the Sept. 17 incident at the Kona Seaside Hotel. Security footage shown during a preliminary hearing in the case showed the three assault the hotel security guard, John Kanui.
Following the assault, Kanui was airlifted to The Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu. He suffered a cervical spine fracture. The 63-year-old was later moved to a mainland hospital for further treatment. On Wednesday, Deputy Prosecutor Sheri Lawson said he has since been transfered to an assisted living facility.
Samoa’s first motion to withdraw due to private counsel being retained was filed with the court on Jan. 22. During Wednesday’s hearing, 3rd Circuit Court Judge Melvin Fujino was concerned about when notification was made to the prosecutor’s office. Ultimately, he was not satisfied with the reasons and found the attempt to withdraw dilatory, or a delay tactic.
The second motion to withdraw was filed with the court on Friday. This time, the reason outlined being a conflict of interest. Datta requested the court appoint private counsel to Samoa.
Deputy Prosecutor Sheri Lawson said a defendant has constitutional rights to an attorney and to choose their own attorney. During Monday’s hearing, the judge granted Samoa’s motion due to a conflict of interest and breakdown of attorney-client privilege.
Despite the state’s opposition the court granted the motion,” Lawson said Monday. “The state will be prepared to go to trial on the continued trial date.”
Samoa has retained Honolulu attorney Barry L. Sooalo. On Friday, he filed a petition with the Hawaii Supreme Court that the trial be continued to allow the defendant time to confer and plan for trial with his new counsel. The petition also requests Fujino recuse himself from the criminal case on the grounds that he cannot be “fair and impartial to this defendant due to prejudice and/or bias against this defendant as demonstrated by the pretrial records and rulings” made by the judge up to this point.
Tautalatasi and Lauvao have waived their rights to speedy trial and will go to trial as scheduled with Samoa.
A fourth person, Mahealani Kanehailua, of Kona, was charged separately in connection to this incident. The Kona grand jury indicted the woman Nov. 5 on the charge of attempted first-degree hindering prosecution.
Kanehailua was initially not charged with a crime following the assault at the hotel — though she was the fourth occupant in a vehicle also carrying Samoa, Lauvao and Tautalatasi. According to police, the four in the hotel parking lot were playing music loudly when they encountered Kanui, asking them to turn it down.
Kanehailua waived her right to a jury trial and a bench trial has been scheduled for Feb. 5.