Jury sees hotel beating video in attempted murder trial

  • Lama Lauvao appears in Circuit Court Tuesday on the second day of trial for the attempted murder of a hotel security guard. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Wesley Samoa appears in Circuit Court with his attorney Barry Sooalo Tuesday on the second day of trial for the attempted murder of a hotel security guard. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Wesley Samoa appears in Circuit Court Tuesday on the second day of trial for the attempted murder of a hotel security guard. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Natisha Tautalatasi listens to testimony with her attorney William Reece Tuesday in Circuit Court. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KEALAKEKUA — A collective gasp came from the jury when surveillance video of the beating of a hotel security guard was aired Tuesday in 3rd Circuit Court.

On the second day of the attempted murder trial for Wesley Samoa, Natisha Tautalatasi and Lama Lauvao, the prosecution played surveillance video that captured the brutal beating of Kona Seaside Hotel security guard John Kanui on Sept. 17.

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Officer Len Hamakado took the stand as the prosecution and defense dissected the 25-minute video, which did not contain audio.

The video began with the defendants’ SUV pulling into the hotel parking lot with the occupants apparently parting company for the night. Three minutes into the video, Kanui arrived in his security cart and stopped next to the vehicle, before exiting it and exchanging words with the defendants.

After what looked to be a heated discussion, Kanui got back into the cart, made a U-turn and parked in front of the SUV where the confrontation continued. Mahealani Kanehailua, the driver of the SUV appeared to be taking video of the altercation with her cell phone. The verbal exchange escalated into a physical altercation when Kanui was surrounded by the defendants, then pulled from the cart and beaten and kicked by Samoa, Tautalatasi and Lauvao while he lay on the ground.

The defendants stopped attacking the guard and appeared to be walking away from a motionless Kanui. It was then that Tautalatasi returned and continued to kick and punch Kanui, evoking the courtroom gasp.

When the beating ended, hotel clerk Lynnette Walker was seen coming to Kanui’s aid, turning him on his side. Police and emergency medical services (EMS) were seen arriving, with paramedics attending to the injured Kanui and loading him into the ambulance.

Paramedic Todd Powers took the stand and testified that when his squad arrived, they observed the patient lying on the ground next to the cart moaning with a large hematoma on the face and active bleeding from his head and minimal to no movement of extremities.

Suspecting a spinal injury, Powers said he followed protocol by placing a cervical collar on Kanui and putting him on a spine board before loading him on the gurney. He testified that he was concerned that Kanui was at risk of death. Once Kanui was in the ambulance, Powers testified his conditioned worsened and he needed to be intubated because his airway was compromised.

Samoa’s defense attorney Barry Sooalo grilled Powers on cross-examination on whether the emergency responders actions could have exacerbated the spinal injury, repeatedly questioning protocol. Powers said protocol for suspected spinal cord injury was followed.

Tautalatasi’s attorney, William Reece questioned Powers on the consequences of turning a person with a spinal injury on their side.

“If the airway is compromised, it is OK to move,” Powers replied.

Reece then asked Powers how he can tell if someone is faking injuries.

“By examination,” Powers said.

Walker, the hotel clerk, then took the stand and recounted the events of Sept. 17. She stated that Kanehailua came to the front desk and told her “she needed to come outside and tell the security guard to stop talking to her friends.”

That is when Walker initially called 911.

When she heard what sounded like slaps coming from the parking lot, she headed outside. Passing the surveillance camera she saw Kanui lying motionless on the ground and called 911 for a second time, requesting an ambulance.

When she came out of the hotel to check on Kanui, Walker stated that Kanui asked her to roll him on his side because he was going to choke. Walker stated she did as he asked because she didn’t want him to choke.

Lead detective David Matsushima took the stand next and testified that a search warrant was issued for Kanehailua’s phone in an attempt to recover any video she may have had of the initial altercation. He indicated that based on analysis of the phone, there was no video.

Officer Dustin Chaves was the last witness to take the stand Tuesday. He testified that when he arrived on the scene the defendants were yelling and screaming at the other officers, however, Lauvao was cooperative at his booking back at the Kona Police Station.

Chaves added that Lauvao appeared to be extremely intoxicated. When asked by Lauvao’s defense attorney Andrew Kennedy if Lauvao was stumbling or had slurred speech, Chaves indicated he was not, but could tell his level of intoxication by the odor of alcohol on the defendant, glassy red eyes and the sheer violence of the attack.

Kanui’s niece Erica Hill was present in the courtroom and after viewing the video for the first time was visibly shaken. “He’s alive but not living his life,” she said.

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

If convicted, each faces life imprisonment with the possibility of parole and up to a $50,000 fine.

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

Trial continues today in 3rd Circuit Court Judge Melvin Fujino’s courtroom.

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