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Hilo man gets 15 years for firing shots at teens

A 31-year-old Hilo man was sentenced Monday to 15 years in prison for firing gunshots at a group of people almost 2 1/2 years ago in the parking lot of Puainako Town Center in Hilo.

Desmond Lee Kaulana Kepano pleaded no contest in September to attempted first-degree assault, being a felon in possession of a firearm, illegally carrying a loaded firearm, resisting an order to stop a vehicle, and four counts of first-degree terroristic threatening.

In exchange for his plea, prosecutors dropped charges of attempted second-degree murder, resisting arrest and two counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

Deputy Prosecutor Kelden Waltjen told Hilo Circuit Judge Greg Nakamura that Kepano “is not a stranger to the criminal justice system,” noting prior felony convictions in 2009 for first-degree terroristic threatening and illegally carrying a firearm.

“The defendant unjustifiably threatened a group of teenagers after his passenger mistakenly told him that she thought that one of the teenager’s cars belonged to a person that owed her money,” Waltjen said Monday. “The defendant then took it upon himself to not only threaten the group of teenagers, but also fired multiple shots at the unarmed teenagers, narrowly missing one of them and placing them all in danger.”

Waltjen noted Kepano fled the parking lot toward Puna in a white Jeep Wrangler with his girlfriend, Kanani Castro, and his then-17-year-old nephew as passengers. According to the prosecutor, Kepano “put members of the public in danger,” reaching speeds of more than 100 mph, overtaking multiple cars and crossing double-solid lines on Highway 11 “all the while without having his headlights illuminated.”

“That pursuit would only end when the defendant’s vehicle ran out of gas,” Waltjen said.

Ivan Van Leer, Kepano’s court-appointed attorney, called Kepano’s actions “aberrational” and said his client “has taken responsibility for what he’s done.”

“I understand the acts the state cites, but I don’t think that’s this defendant’s true nature,” Van Leer said. “That’s certainly not the nature of his family, this loving, caring concerned group of people that are of the most ordinary, kindly, decent people that you can meet.”

On Feb. 6, 2017, at about 10 p.m., Kepano was driving the Jeep in the parking lot, where he shined after-market high-intensity lights toward a Honda Civic and a Toyota Avalon. Four men and a woman, ages 18 to 20, were inside or nearby the vehicles.

Kepano then reportedly said, “What you guys looking at? You guys get eye problems?”

After that, Kepano allegedly opened fire with a handgun, hitting the Civic and another Civic parked nearby.

Four of the five victims and two other witnesses identified Kepano from a photo lineup.

Kepano, who would have faced a mandatory life sentence with the possibility of parole if convicted of the attempted murder charge, declined to address the court Monday during sentencing.

Before sheriff’s deputies escorted him from the courtroom, Kepano looked toward family members seated in the front row.

“I love you, son,” Kepano’s mother said as he looked toward her.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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