Request to move hotel security guard assault case denied

  • Lama Lauvao, left, Natisha Tautalatasi and Wesley Samoa appeared in District Court in September. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today file)

KEALAKEKUA — A request to move court proceedings from 3rd Circuit for individuals accused of beating a hotel security guard was denied.

On Friday, 3rd Circuit Court Judge Melvin Fujino heard several motions filed by defense attorney Barry L. Sooalo on behalf of Wesley Samoa, one of three defendants all accused of assaulting a Kona Seaside Hotel security guard in September. Samoa, 30, of Kona, appeared alongside co-defendants Lama Lauvao, 30, and Natisha Tautalatasi, 41, both of Honolulu. The three have been charged with second-degree attempted murder in the assault of the guard, John Kanui.

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The charge stems from an incident on Sept. 17, 2018, when Samoa, Tautalatasi, and Lauvao got into an altercation with Kanui while in the parking lot at Seaside Hotel. Surveillance footage shows the suspects argue with, then assault the hotel guard. 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.

In the motion filed with the court to transfer proceedings, Sooalo stated media and news coverage of the events leading to the charging of Samoa “has been frenzied and extensive.”

“Community sentiment has been overwhelmingly hostile, highly charged racially, brutal, volatile, and opinionated, such that the defense has serious reservations and doubts about whether or not the Defendant can receive a fair trial in Kona, Hawaii, or anywhere else on the island of Hawaii,” Sooalo’s motion stated.

Andrew Kennedy, defense counsel for Lauvao, joined Sooalo’s motion for transferring proceedings. However, Fujino denied the request.

The Honolulu attorney also requested a bail reduction and supervised release for Samoa, despite Hawaii Intake Service Center’s updated report recommending he remain in custody. While he understands the recommendation, Sooalo asked the court not to follow it. He also requested Samoa’s bail be reduced from $250,000 to $50,000.

Sooalo argued Samoa knows how to conduct himself and will be able to comply with the court and appear for all hearings.

“There’s a proper home for him to reside in and strong family support,” Sooalo said. “There is enough there to suggest he can comply with supervised release.”

Sooalo started to address Samoa’s bail, stating his law office conducted a nonscientific study on bail in the 3rd Circuit. Fujino, however, would not allow the defense counselor to cite those in his study.

“This is an attempted murder case,” the judge said before denying the bail reduction and supervised release. “I expect the attorneys to be at their best and most proficient.”

Sooalo also filed a motion requesting the trial, currently scheduled for June 12, be continued.

“We just need more time for investigators to do their jobs,” Sooalo said.

The purpose for the continuance, Sooalo added, was for his client to get a fair trial. The Honolulu attorney was retained by Samoa in January, on the eve of jury selection when the trial was initially scheduled.

Fujino recalled to Sooalo that when he began representing Samoa, the Honolulu attorney told the court then he could be ready for trial in two months.

“What happened?” The judge asked.

Sooalo said life happens and things came up, adding he wasn’t able to make arrangements with his investigators since the court wouldn’t allow him to appear as his counsel until he was retained.

Deputy Prosecutor Sheri Lawson said Sooalo has had full opportunity since January to do all the investigation he needed.

“All discovery has been provided,” Lawson said. “There is no reason to delay trial. Just a dilatory tactic by the defense.”

Sooalo said Samoa is facing life in prison and should be able to prepare for his trial.

Fujino also denied a motion to try defendants separately.

Kennedy and Tautalatasi’s attorney, David Reece, filed motions to withdraw as counsel from their clients. Both motions indicated a wish to withdraw due to a breakdown in communication and irreconcilable differences. A hearing date has yet to be set for those motions.

Fujino did extend the pretrial motion deadline to May 3.

A fourth person, Mahealani Kanehailua, of Kona, was charged separately in connection to the September incident. The Kona grand jury indicted the woman Nov. 5 on the charge of attempted first-degree hindering prosecution.

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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, who asked them to turn it down.

Kanehailua waived her right to a jury trial and a bench trial was continued from Feb. 5 to May 21.

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