Hotel beating trial to open next week

  • John Kanui. (Photo from GoFundMe/Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • Lama Lauvao, left, Natisha Tautalatasi and Wesley Samoa appeared in District Court in September. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today file)

KEALAKEKUA — Jury trial is set to open Wednesday for two men and a woman charged with attempted murder in connection with the brutal assault of a Kailua Village hotel security guard last fall.

Wesley Samoa, Natisha Tautalatasi and Lama Lauvao have each pleaded not guilty to a single charge of attempted second-degree murder stemming from the Sept. 17, 2018, incident at the Kona Seaside Hotel. If convicted, each faces life imprisonment with the possibility of parole and up to a $50,000 fine.

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During a status conference Thursday before 3rd Circuit Court Judge Melvin H. Fujino, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chase Murray said once a jury and three alternates are selected from two panels being screened Wednesday and Thursday that the state would need until about a week, or until approximately June 20, to present its case against the defendants.

Defense attorneys Andrew Kennedy, Barry L. Sooalo, and David Reece each said that after the state rests they’d need about a day to present their cases for their clients, Lauvao, Samoa and Tautalatasi, respectively. None of the defendants was present.

No trial will take place on Mondays. The prosecutor and defense counsels all stated the trial would wrap up no later than June 25, with the possibility of being complete on June 21.

Lauvao, Samoa and Tautalatasi remain in custody in lieu of $250,000 bail each.

The charge stems from an incident that occurred early Sept. 17, 2018, when Samoa, Tautalatasi, and Lauvao allegedly got into an altercation with the victim, John Kanui, while in the parking lot at the hotel off Palani Road.

Hotel video surveillance of the incident shows Samoa, Tautalatasi and Lauvao along with a fourth person, later identified as Mahealani Kanehailua, chatting outside the hotel when the security guard pulls up in a golf cart. After what appeared to be an exchange of words, the video shows the three suspects pull the guard out of the cart and repeatedly kick and punch him in the head, back and stomach.

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.

Candi Hill Runn, who said she is the niece of Kanui, created a fundraiser on GoFundMe on Sept. 29, 2018, to raise money for her uncle’s increasing medical bills. According to the campaign, Kanui suffered a broken neck and a traumatic brain injury in the attack and has been moved to a facility on the mainland for care. As of Friday, more than $25,000 had been raised.

In Runn’s most recent update to the page posted several months ago, she said the family has been directed by prosecutors to not share any details about Kanui’s condition.

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“With the criminal trial fastly approaching, we have found that in the best interest of my sweet Uncle that we abide by the guidelines set forth. We do not want to jeopardize or potentially alter the case in any way shape or form,” Runn wrote. “If by not sharing specific details at this time is what is being requested by those helping seek justice for my Uncle, then we as a family will oblige their request. Above all, our family wants justice for our loved one, we NEED this for him. He DESERVES justice!!”

Kanehailua, of Kona, was indicted in November by a Big Island grand jury on charges of attempted first-degree hindering prosecution in connection with the September incident. She was acquitted of the charge following a bench trial in May before Fujino.

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