Jury finds Honaunau man guilty of second-degree murder in Painted Church Road shooting

  • Brian Lee Smith stands in 3rd Circuit Court Thursday as a jury delivers a guilty verdict in the fatal shooting on Painted Church Road last year. (Tiffany DeMasters/West Hawaii Today)

KEALAKEKUA — A Honaunau man stood quiet, with his head held up, as he listened Thursday to his guilty verdict in a fatal shooting on Painted Church Road in June 2018.

Jurors had returned to deliberations Thursday morning after the state and defense rested their cases Wednesday afternoon in the trial of Brian Lee Smith, who was facing charges in the murder of Thomas Ballesteros Jr. and attempted murder of Nikolaus Slavik.

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The jury returned its verdict before noon Thursday.

Smith was found guilty of second-degree murder and the included offense of first-degree reckless endangerment in relation to the assault on Slavik. He was also found guilty on 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.

The jury found the 50-year-old not guilty of attempted first-degree murder.

“We hope an end of the criminal case brings closure to the Ballesteros family and Mr. Slavik and his family,” Deputy Prosecutor Kate Perazich said Thursday, adding she was pleased with the verdict and thanked the jury for its attention in “this serious case.”

Ballesteros’ family openly wept when the guilty verdict was announced. Outside the courtroom after Smith was led out, Ballesteros’ sister and niece expressed relief and a sense of closure.

Ballesteros’ sister, Rachel Velez, said it’s been nine months of constant waiting and hoping.

“I was worried it might go the other way ‘cause you never know with a jury,” she said.

While they were disappointed Smith wasn’t found guilty on first-degree attempted murder, they were happy he was convicted on all other six charges.

Ballesteros’ niece, Bree-Ani Velez, sat through most of the trial. The hardest day for her was listening to Slavik’s testimony on the first day.

“We heard stories about what happened, but him walking though it made it more real,” Bree-Ani Velez said. “I just kept praying it would go our way. Afraid he was going to get away with it.”

Charges stemmed from a shooting incident on Painted Church Road on June 23, 2018. Ballesteros and Slavik had been picking mangoes on the mauka side of the road, across the street from Smith’s residence. About 3 p.m., Smith arrived home and at one point approached the men armed with a gun.

After a short exchange of words, Ballesteros was fatally shot once in the head, Slavik was shot three times and Smith was shot in the upper thigh. Smith left the scene of the shooting on his motorcycle and drove to a home in Hookena where he testified he was scheduled to conduct a paint job. It was there he called a friend to take him to Kona Community Hospital.

During trial, Smith testified Ballesteros had terrorized him and his roommate, Leslie Mosier. The night before the shooting, the 50-year-old told the court, the decedent broke into his home, assaulted Mosier and stole his property.

When he saw Ballesteros and Slavik picking mangoes across the street from his residence the following day, Smith stated he was scared and grabbed a gun he used for hunting to protect himself and insisted they leave.

On Thursday, Rachel Velez said she never knew her brother to be a violent person and didn’t deny his drug abuse. However, there were a lot of issues that happened between him and Mosier, who he dated for about three to four years.

Ballesteros is survived by a 21-year-old daughter and a 26-year-old son.

“I wanna thank everyone who’s been praying for our family to get through this situation and thank the prosecution for fighting so hard for him,” Rachel Velez said.

Smith had several friends support him during the trial. After the verdict, one of his friends said the Honaunau man was a good guy.

“It’s a sad day, but the family, they got the verdict they wanted, which is closure for them,” she said.

The woman, who declined to provide her name, added she’d always be Smith’s friend.

“I know he didn’t mean for this to happen,” she said.

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Attempts to reach Smith’s attorney, Jason Kwiat, who left the courthouse after the verdict, for comment were unsuccessful.

Smith’s sentencing is June 26. He remains in custody and faces life in prison with the possibility of parole.

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