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Trial continued in hotel security guard assault case

KAILUA-KONA — A jury trial for three individuals accused of beating a hotel security guard was continued to July on the eve of jury selection.

On Monday, Wesley Samoa, Natisha Tautalatasi and Lama Lauvao appeared in Kona Circuit Court after a motion was filed by Samoa’s court-appointed attorney, Deputy Public Defender Ann Datta, to withdraw as counsel.

“My client has asked me to withdraw as his counsel due to ineffective assistance of counsel, which creates a conflict of interest,” Datta stated in her motion.

Trial is now scheduled for July 9.

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

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 he has since been transfered to an assisted living facility.

During a hearing Wednesday, Kona Circuit Judge Melvin Fujuno was not satisfied with Samoa’s reasons for wanting to change counsel and found the attempt to be a delay tactic.

A second motion to withdraw was filed with the court Friday. This time, the reason outlined being a conflict of interest. Datta requested the court appoint private counsel for Samoa.

Deputy Prosecutor Sheri Lawson said a defendant has constitutional rights to an attorney and to choose who represents them.

During the hearing Monday, despite the state’s opposition, the court granted the judge granted Samoa’s motion, Lawson said.

“The state will be prepared to go to trial on the continued trial date,” she said.

Samoa retained Honolulu attorney Barry L. Sooalo. On Friday, he filed a petition with the state Supreme Court that the trial be continued to allow the defendant time to confer and plan for trial with his new counsel. The petition also requests Fujino recuse himself from the criminal case on the grounds that he cannot be “fair and impartial to this defendant due to prejudice and/or bias against this defendant as demonstrated by the pretrial records and rulings” made by the judge up to this point.

Tautalatasi and Lauvao waived their right to a speedy trial and will go to trial as scheduled with Samoa.

A fourth person, Mahealani Kanehailua of Kona, also was charged separately in connection with this incident. A Kona grand jury indicted the woman Nov. 5 on the charge of attempted first-degree hindering prosecution.

Kanehailua waived her right to a jury trial. A bench trial is scheduled for Feb. 5.

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

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