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Closing remarks heard in sex assault case; deliberations begin

The fate of a 21-year-old man accused of sexually assaulting an elderly woman in 2019 at a South Kohala campground is in the hands of the seven-woman, five-man jury.

Closing remarks were heard by the prosecution and defense Tuesday in the trial of Zeth Browder, who was 18 at the time of the alleged incident June 15, 2019, at Spencer Beach Park in Kawaihae. Browder is charged with two counts each first-degree sexual assault and third-degree sexual assault and one count each first-degree burglary, kidnapping and tampering with evidence.

Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Kristen Yamamoto addressed the jury summarizing the case she brought forth during the trial that wrapped up last week. The Honolulu City and County Prosecutors Office is litigating the case due to an undisclosed conflict of interest with the Hawaii County Office of the Prosecuting Attorney.

“Ultimately, this case comes to one question. Is she credible?” Yamamoto began in her statement. “Because she is believable, the testimony of one witness is enough to find the defendant guilty.”

Yamamoto said the now 80-year-old woman was scared, nervous and emotional on the witness stand, consistent with someone who has been traumatized. The victim identified Browder in a photo line-up as her assailant and the nurse who examined the victim testified the injuries were consistent with the victim’s statement.Yamamoto dismissed the lack of DNA evidence on the woman’s genitals and mouth, saying they could have been wiped away by multiple trips to the bathroom.

The prosecutor also explained the conflicting statements the woman gave police, the examining nurse and grand jury, attributing them to being in shock and fearing for her life.

“He entered her tent and told her he was going to kill her,” Yamamoto said. “She was alone. Went camping by herself. She was an easy target and he had his opportunity. What she said makes sense.”

Yamamoto further stated the woman had nothing to gain by making up the story and the state contends the victim is believable.

“If you believe the defense, then the victim needs to get an Academy Award,” she said.

Defense counsel contended the evidence, or lack of, presented shows fictitious cries of rape, a rush to judgement by police and the wrongful arrest of an innocent teenager.

“A few hours after her initial statement, the account changed drastically,” said Deputy Public Defender James Greenberg. “The story gets better and better. How do you get that wrong if you are telling the truth?”

Greenberg asked the jury to try the facts of the case. Police arrested Browder after a 10- to 15-minute interview with him

“There was no investigation of the alleged crime scene. No vomit, no blood, no hair, no DNA in the crime scene,” he said.

Showing a photo of the tent where the alleged assault took place, Greenberg queried why the alleged crime scene appeared to be undisturbed.

“The tent would be a mess if she was being viciously raped,” he said. “It’s inexcusable what police didn’t do at the crime scene. She was allegedly assaulted for 30-40 minutes and there is no evidence in the tent?”

He said people want to believe an old woman, but there is no evidence to support her claim.

“Use your common sense,” he told the jury. “There is no evidence other than my client is innocent.”

Browder has been in custody at Hawaii Community Correctional Center since his arrest June 15, 2019.

First-degree sexual assault and kidnapping are Class A felonies punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment; first-degree burglary is a Class B felony that carries a 10-year sentence; and third-degree sexual assault in a Class C felony punishable by five years behind bars. Evidence tampering is a misdemeanor offense

Because prosecutors intend to seek enhanced sentencing measures if Browder is convicted of two or more the felony counts he faces longer terms behind bars. Such enhancement would mean a life sentence with the possibility of parole for the Class A felonies and double the time behind bars for the Class B and C felonies.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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