KEALAKEKUA — A motion for a new trial in the case of three individuals found guilty in the September 2018 beating of a hotel security guard was denied Friday in Circuit Court.
Barry Sooalo, attorney for Wesley Samoa, argued the court should consider granting a new trial for his client and his two co-defendants Natisha Tautalatasi and Lama Lauvao.
Samoa and Tautalatasi were found guilty of attempted second-degree murder and Lauvao was found guilty of the lesser charge of first-degree assault following a June jury trial.
The victim, Kona Seaside Hotel security guard John Kanui, remains paralyzed in a mainland long-term care facility as a result of the brutal beating captured on hotel surveillance video.
Sooalo argued Friday that a miscarriage of justice would result if the verdict in the trial were to stand.
Sooalo said the first issue was the right of his client to confront his accuser, which he was denied. He argued the burden was on the state to bring a motion to determine the unavailability of the complaining witness (Kanui), yet there was no hearing and no motion.
“The state did not compel Mr. Kanui to come,” said Sooalo.
He also called into question a video that was presented to the jury showing Kanui’s physical condition.
A video of Kanui at Craig Hospital in Denver was played for the jury while his daughter, Jennifer Farrell, was on the stand. It showed Kanui being hoisted by a lift in order to be placed in a wheelchair. He showed limited movement in his biceps but no ability to move his extremities.
Sooalo argued the video was testimonial hearsay and highly prejudicial.
He also said the prosecution never produced a mug shot of Tautalatasi after the assault, which would have shown the injuries she suffered. That have proven that Kanui was the aggressor, justifying his client’s position that Samoa was just defending Tautalatasi.
“I don’t see what a still photo has to do with it when the video shows it all,” said Judge Melvin H. Fujino, who presided over the trial, adding that it is just speculation of what the photo might show.
Sooalo then argued that there was jury impropriety based on comments Samoa’s wife reported hearing on a break during trial. Mahealani Kanehailua told Sooalo she overheard a juror state that “the choice is easy” while on a smoke break with three other jurors, but could not say for sure what the juror was talking about.
The four jurors were questioned separately, along with the court bailiff who was escorting them on their break. The jurors and bailiff assured the court that there had been no discussion of the case on the break and the trial resumed.
Sooalo insisted that Kanehailua told him she heard the juror say that she already knew how she was going to vote.
A frustrated Fujino told Sooalo that his change in verbiage from what actually was brought up during trial “is subject to violating rules of conduct.”
Fujino denied the motion for a new trial.
Sentencing for the three is set for Sept. 13.
Samoa and Tautalatasi face life in prison with the possibility of parole. Lauvao faces up to 10 years in prison.