A Kona Circuit Court judge on Thursday continued a hearing on a motion by prosecutors to continue trial for a 19-year-old man accused of sexually assaulting a septuagenarian last summer at a Kawaihae campground.
Special Deputy Attorney General Kristen Yamamoto argued via teleconference from Honolulu that the victim is unable to appear in person at this time amid the pandemic because of her advanced age and medical history, warranting the continuation. She cited new active cases on Hawaii Island and suggested the trial be postponed until “late summer, when the situation us under control nationally.”
Yamamoto is prosecuting the case because of an undisclosed conflict of interest with the Hawaii County Office of the Prosecuting Attorney.
Deputy Public Defender James Greenberg opposed the motion to continue trial for Zeth Browder, which is scheduled to begin June 2. He cited Rule 48, which guarantees a speedy trial. Greenberg also asked for his client to be granted supervised release, noting that Browder has been incarcerated for a year and is innocent until proven guilty.
In April, Greenberg filed a motion to have his client released on his own recognizance, asking for “emergency and humanitarian release” for Browder due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He later withdrew the motion because Browder did not have a place to stay.
After hearing arguments from both sides, Judge Robert D.S. Kim continued the hearing until Thursday because the court was waiting on whether Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald would issue a new order extending an April 27 order that postponed all jury trials to dates after May 29 in an effort to ensure the health and safety of court personnel and users and minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19 in the courts.
On Friday afternoon, Recktenwald issued an order suspending all jury trials until after June 30, unless otherwise ordered by the chief judge of the respective circuit.
Browder has been confined at Hawaii Community Correction Center in lieu of $166,000 bail since his arrest last June. He has pleaded not guilty to two counts each first-degree sexual assault and third-degree sexual assault and one count each first-degree burglary, kidnapping and tampering with evidence.
According to prosecutors and police, the female victim, now 79 years old, reported that she had been sexually assaulted by a man who was also camping at Spencer Beach Park. Police identified and subsequently charged Browder in connection with the alleged crime.
Trial, which was originally slated to begin March 10 but was delayed to June 2 pursuant to Recktenwald’s first order suspending all criminal trials to after April 30.