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Judge denies defendant’s request to continue trial, retain new counsel

KEALAKEKUA — Attempts to continue trial and retain new counsel were denied on the eve of a jury trial for one of the suspects accused in an assault of a hotel security guard.

Wesley Samoa was shackled when he took the stand Wednesday in Kona Circuit Court to answer questions about why he wanted to switch attorneys from Public Defender Ann Datta to Honolulu attorney Barry Sooalo. Datta has represented Samoa since a preliminary hearing in September.

“I felt I needed someone to really fight for me,” Samoa told the court, adding he didn’t “feel there was a connection” between him and Datta.

Samoa, 30, of Kona, along with Honolulu residents Natisha Tautalatasi, 41, and LamaLauvao, 30, are each charged with second-degree attempted murder in connection with a Sept. 17 incident at Kona Seaside Hotel. Security footage shown during a preliminary hearing in the case showed the three assault hotel security guard John Kanui.

A fourth person, Mahealani Kanehailua of Kona, was charged separately in connection with the incident. A Kona grand jury indicted her Nov. 5 for attempted first-degree hindering prosecution. Her trial is set to begin Feb. 5.

Following the assault, Kanui was airlifted to The Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu. He suffered a cervical spine fracture. The 63-year-old was later moved to a mainland hospital for further treatment. On Wednesday, Deputy Prosecutor Sheri Lawson said Kanui was transfered to an assisted living facility.

Samoa told the court getting a new attorney was something he thought about from the time he was initially charged. It was his family who helped facilitate finding Sooalo since he was incarcerated.

“I just feel he can help us,” Samoa said. “I feel like the public defender, they’re only going to do so much.”

Samoa confirmed with Lawson he was aware a firm trial date was set for Jan. 29.

Fujino was concerned about when the prosecutor’s office was notified. During pretrial motions Jan. 16, oral motions were made to change counsel and continue trial on behalf of Samoa. Fujino would not hear the motions until written documents were filed with the court and continued the hearing to Wednesday.

Sooalo told the court he would need about two months to prepare for trial. However, Lawson added the prosecutor’s office was busy the next few months with different trials, including murder cases.

Postponing it, she reiterated, would be an inconvenience as witnesses become unavailable and evidence disappears.

Datta told the court Samoa has a constitutional right to request a private attorney.

“It’s a structural error if he’s denied counsel of his choice,” she said. “I don’t think inconvenience should overcome his choice.”

Datta said Sooalo appeared as soon as he was retained.

“I’m still not satisfied,” Fujino said about Samoa’s reasonings for both requests.

The judge denied the motions and kept the date for the jury trial to begin as Jan. 29.

Email Tiffany DeMasters at tdemasters@westhawaiitoday.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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