HILO — Valentine Gonsalves Jr. entered Hilo Circuit Court Wednesday facing a possible 20-year prison sentence for manslaughter.
Instead, he left a free man.
Judge Greg Nakamura sentenced Gonsalves to 10 years of probation and time served in jail.
The 45-year-old Kona man spent 38 months in Hawaii Community Correctional Center since fatally shooting his 25-year-old nephew, Keith Nakoa Gonsalves, in a bizarre Jan. 4, 2016, incident in the Waiakea Uka area of Hilo. The younger Gonsalves was involved in an altercation with Naea Mainaaupo-Lindsey outside Mainaaupo-Lindsey’s Alaloa Road home when the shooting occurred.
Mainaaupo-Lindsey told a Honolulu television news outlet shortly after the shooting he believed the bullet was intended for him.
Valentine Gonsalves, who had originally been charged with second-degree murder, pleaded no contest on Dec. 14 to manslaughter. In exchange for his plea, two firearms charges and a single count of reckless endangering were dismissed.
Deputy Prosecutor Shannon Kagawa on Wednesday called the case “a tragic situation” and noted Gonsalves’ “remorse for the death of his nephew, Keith,” but asked the judge to sentence Gonsalves to the maximum 20-year prison term.
“The state’s position, in the end, is that someone’s life was lost. And it was a situation that the state believes, you know, could have been avoided. A firearm had been discharged,” she said.
Stanton Oshiro, Gonsalves’ attorney, called his client “an ideal candidate for probation.”
His “comprehension of the idea that things can get out of hand and evolve into something he never expected when he started has been brought home to him by this incident,” Oshiro said. “He’s willing to do what he needs to do, and he’s sorry.”
Gonsalves addressed the court and told the judge, “If granted a chance, sir, I won’t make a fool of you.”
“It was never my intent to have life taken, sir, and I was just trying to save a life, as well as trying to keep my nephew from making the biggest mistake of his life, sir,” Gonsalves said. “And, if I could, sir, I would trade my life for his in a heartbeat.”
Valentine Gonsalves’ wife, Tiffany Gonsalves, and sister, Ernesta Gonsalves — the latter is also the victim’s mother — appealed to the court for leniency.
“I just want the court to know that my husband is a very good man,” Tiffany Gonsalves said. “And although he did make some bad decisions … I hope you can find it in your heart to give him a second chance. We have two kids, 17 and 15, that really, really need him in their life. And although they couldn’t be here today, they love their dad. He’s always been an amazing father, an amazing husband, an amazing friend to our family members and community.”
Ernesta Gonsalves said she was humbly asking “for forgiveness from the heart in passing judgment on my brother.”
“Reckless endangering is not murder or manslaughter. We Gonsalves are an honestly good family. Nobody is perfect, but we all try our best to push forward, given the harsh times of trials and tribulations,” she said.
Nakamura said the choice between a prison sentence and probation for Gonsalves, who had no prior felony convictions, is “a really difficult call.”
“I can see that it may be true that you were suffering from extreme mental and emotional disturbance, because Mr. Mainaaupo-Lindsey was slapping, punching and choking your nephew,” the judge said. “… It is one of the most terrible ironies of life that in trying to protect your nephew, you shot him instead, and he died.”
The judge also noted Gonsalves wasn’t blameless, saying Gonsalves admitted to using methamphetamine the night of the shooting but also claimed he was asleep when the affray started.
“You’re saying that your nephew had the gun, and you were trying to wrest it away from him, when the gun went off,” he said. “What is apparent is that the evidence shows that your nephew was shot from behind, and you were behind him. And this was based upon witness observation and physical evidence, although I’ll concede that the gunshot residue seems to favor your contention as to what happened.
“What is not known is whether you pulled the trigger intentionally or accidentally, or why the gun went off.”
The judge said he hopes Gonsalves makes peace with his family and himself, abides by the law and complies with his probation.
“And if you don’t, then a 20-year prison sentence awaits you,” Nakamura said.
A probation sentence for manslaughter is rare but not unprecedented. In 2009, Hilo Circuit Judge Glenn Hara, since retired, sentenced Randal Randrup to 10 years probation and two years in jail for the shooting death of his son, Chris Randrup, in Puna.
After Wednesday’s sentencing, Tiffany Gonsalves said the sentence is “a big weight off my shoulders.”
“I’m just ready to get on with my life, our life,” she said.
After his release from HCCC, Valentine Gonsalves said he is looking forward to reuniting with his family. He called his three years behind bars “a long haul, for sure.”
“Spending time with the word helped me make it through,” he said.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.