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Homicide cases pile up as pandemic drags on

Since the coronavirus pandemic struck Hawaii last March, no high-profile homicide cases have gone to trial on the Big Island.

Hawaii Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald issued an order stating jury trials could resume in Big Island circuit courtrooms in mid-November 2020.

Third Circuit Chief Judge Robert D.S. Kim said earlier this month that “the overall picture is, yes, we are accommodating trials.”

“We set the date, and if they want to go, we’re ready to go. And usually motions to continue come in right before that date,” Kim said. “And that’s the way it happens … too, without COVID.”

With higher-profile cases — particularly homicides — the road to a jury trial can take years, especially in Hilo. And while that was true prior to COVID-19, the pandemic has highlighted the backlog of homicide cases.

Jury selections in high-profile cases require enough space to socially distance prospective jurors — with jury pools averaging 50 to 80 individuals, or more.

In addition, trials are public, and Kim said accommodations have been made should a high-profile case go to trial before the pandemic is declared over.

“They set up a Zoom link in the (law) library, which will be turned on in case there’s overflow of people who want to watch, and for the media, if there’s no space. It’ll be live in that room,” he said.

One change of plea in a Hilo murder case has occurred, although sentencing in that case will be postponed.

Sentencing for Tiffany Stone — who originally was charged with second-degree murder but pleaded guilty on Dec. 11 to manslaughter in the June 28, 2016, starvation death of her 9-year-old, developmentally disabled daughter, Shaelynn Lehano-Stone — was to have taken place Thursday, but has been continued to March 8 before for Hilo Circuit Judge Henry Nakamoto.

The reason for the delay is to give the probation officer preparing the pre-sentencing investigation report more time due to the voluminous amount of evidence in the case.

Stone, who has been in custody in lieu of $100,000 bail since July 2017, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. If she had been convicted of second-degree murder, she would have faced a mandatory life sentence with the possibility of parole.

Stone’s mother, Henrietta Stone, and the child’s father, Kevin Lehano, both remain in custody in lieu of $100,000 bail. They were charged with second-degree murder.

Lehano was found fit to stand trial more than a year ago, but progress in his case has slowed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Lehano, who has reportedly been working on a plea deal, has an April 9 court date before Hilo Circuit Judge Peter Kubota for “further proceedings.”

The court since 2018 has been in the process of determining whether Henrietta Stone is fit to stand trial. The results of three mental health examiners’ reports will be presented Friday in Nakamoto’s courtroom.

Two other murder defendants also are scheduled for mental exam reports at that hearing. One is John Ali Hoffman, charged with first-degree murder and three counts of second-degree murder in the May 16, 2016, shooting deaths of his 40-year-old wife, Arecely Hoffman, and their children, 10-year-old Clara Hoffman and 7-year-old John “Junior” Hoffman, in the family’s Leilani Estates home.

The other is Mark Whyne, a former Pahoa High School special education teacher accused of the Dec. 29, 2012, shooting death of Faafetai Fiu, a homeless man with a wife and son, on Bayfront Highway near Mooheau Park in Hilo.

Other homicide cases awaiting trials or plea agreements in Hilo include:

• Ryan Frederick Davis, charged with second-degree murder for the March 17, 2019, shooting death of 38-year-old Joshua John Santos in Fern Acres. Davis had two trial dates in 2019 postponed as plea negotiations occurred. He’s scheduled to be in Nakamoto’s courtroom Thursday to get a trial date or for further proceedings. He remains in custody in lieu of $310,000 bail.

• Kalani Lono Kaohimaunu, charged with second-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a separate felony for the Nov. 26, 2015, shooting death of 39-year-old Keola Penovaroff outside the Hilo home Penovaroff’s girlfriend and her mother rented from Kaohimaunu’s mother.

Kaohimaunu has had five lawyers since being charged in the case and has filed numerous motions, including one seeking dismissal, which is scheduled to be heard on March 1 by Nakamoto. Kaohimaunu remains in custody in lieu of $750,000 bail.

• Isauro Garcia Madrigal, charged with second-degree murder for the July 26, 2020, stabbing death of Felix Padamada Jr. on Madrigal’s property in Orchidland Estates subdivision in Puna. Madrigal has a March 8 court date before Kubota for further proceedings. Madrigal remains in custody in lieu of $2 million bail.

• Jarvis Rockwell Hung Leung Boots, charged with second-degree murder, first-degree attempted murder and numerous other charges for the Dec. 18, 2020, shooting death of 41-year-old Benjamin Davidson at Puainako Town Center, plus two nonfatal shootings Dec. 2 near the Papaikou Transfer Station. A court has ordered a mental examination for Boots, who has a status conference March 9 in Hilo District Court. He remains in custody without bail.

• Stanley Cummins, charged with second-degree murder for the June 20, 2020, baseball-bat bludgeoning death of 35-year-old Jace Whitney AhQuin in the downstairs apartment AhQuin rented in Cummins’ Hawaiian Beaches home. Cummins had a trial scheduled for Nov. 16 last year, but Kubota said his court is backlogged for trials and found “exceptional circumstances exist to continue the matter” beyond the state’s 180-day speedy trial deadline. Cummins is scheduled for further proceedings March 10.

• Patricia Wong, charged with second-degree murder for the shooting death of 21-year-old Kaycee Smith, who was found dead June 26, 2009, in Smith’s Orchidland Estates subdivision home. It took seven years to indict Wong, who was apprehended by U.S. Marshals in Las Vegas. The case has seen numerous delays since, but Wong has a trial set for Aug. 9 before Nakamoto. A hearing on a state motion to determine if statements made by Wong are admissible as evidence likely will happen before then, but hasn’t been scheduled. Wong is free on $250,000 bail.

“We have taken every step, in coordination with the Department of Health, to ensure that whenever we bring people into the courtroom, we have social distancing and masks, and follow all protocols of the Department of Health to maintain safety,” Kim said.

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

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