Jury finds 2 Native Hawaiian men guilty of hate crimes in beating a white man

HONOLULU (AP) — A jury on Thursday found two Native Hawaiian men guilty of a hate crime for the 2014 beating of a white man who was fixing up a home he bought in their remote Maui neighborhood.

U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright ordered the arrests of Kaulana Alo-Kaonohi and Levi Aki Jr. pending sentencing scheduled for March 2, and marshals moved to handcuff the two men after the verdict was announced in the afternoon.

Family members and supporters wept in the courtroom and shouted at the men, “I love you” and “Be good.” “God bless you dad,” said Alo-Kaonohi’s son Kahue, 3.

In an unusual move, the US Justice Department sought to prosecute Alo-Kaonohi and Aki and in December 2020 won a federal grand jury indictment, charging each with a hate crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison. prison.

Prosecutors alleged during their trial in the US District Court in Honolulu that Alo-Kaonohi and Aki were motivated by Christopher Kunzelman’s race when they punched, kicked and used a shovel to beat him in the village of Kahakuloa . Kunzelman was left with injuries including a concussion, two broken ribs and head and abdominal trauma, prosecutors said.

Alo-Kaonohi previously pleaded no contest to the felony assault in state court and was sentenced to probation, while Aki pleaded no contest to terrorism threats and was sentenced to probation and nearly 200 days in jail. The federal trial was held separately, to determine whether they were guilty of a hate crime. It is unclear why US prosecutors have taken so long to prosecute hate crime charges.

Local attorneys say they have never heard of the federal government prosecuting Native Hawaiians for hate crimes before this case.

Lawyers for Alo-Kaonohi and Aki did not deny the assault, but said it was not a hate crime. It wasn’t race that triggered the attack, they said, but Kunzelman’s legitimate and disrespectful attitude.

Chico Kaonohi, left, prays with Priscilla Hoʻopiʻi, center, and Lana Vierra, right, outside the U.S. District Court in Honolulu on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022, after her Native Hawaiian son was found guilty of a felony of hate in the 2014 beating of a white man. U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright ordered the arrests of Kaulana Alo-Kaonohi and Levi Aki Jr. pending sentencing scheduled for March 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Jennifer Sinco Kelleher)

The men were appalled that Kunzelman cut the locks on the village gates, their lawyers said. Kunzelman said he did it because residents were locking him in and out. He testified that he wanted to equip the village with better locks and distribute keys to the residents.

Kunzelman testified that while Alo-Kaonohi and Aki were beating him, they had told him that no white people would ever live in Kahakuloa village. However, he acknowledged that he is not heard in the video recorded during the attack.

Kunzelman said he decided to bring two guns to Maui after hearing that a contractor he hired to fix the mold had been attacked when he showed up and after his real estate agent said the close-knit Native Hawaiian community had a problem with whites.

He also installed cameras on his vehicle, which were on during the attack. The vehicle was parked under the house and recorded images of what was happening downstairs, including Aki pacing with a shovel on his shoulder. The video only captured the audio of the assault, which took place upstairs.

Lawyers for Alo-Kaonohi and Aki told jurors the video shows they did not use racial slurs.

“Haole,” a Hawaiian word with meanings that include foreign and white person, was central to the case, highlighting multicultural Hawaii’s nuanced and complicated relationship to race.

At one point Aki is heard saying, “You’re a haole, huh,” using a Hawaiian word that can mean white person. Defense attorneys said she did not use the word in a derogatory way.

“It’s not a hate crime to assault someone and have them use the word ‘haole,'” public defender Lynn Panagakos said in her opening statement. She noted that Aki is part Hawaiian and part haole.

“‘Haole’ has multiple meanings depending on the context,” he said. “It’s an accepted word.”

Megan Kau, a Native Hawaiian attorney not involved in the case, said it depends on the tone and how the word is used.

“These native Hawaiians who live in a very traditional, secluded community use the term ‘haole’ to describe people who are not from Hawaii – that’s the term they use,” he said. “We all use the term ‘haole’ very often. It’s not derogatory unless you’re using it in a derogatory sense.

Wiping away tears outside the courthouse after the verdict, Alo-Kaonohi’s father Chico Kaonohi said prejudice was not a motivation behind the attack and “‘Haole’ is not a racist word.”

“Where we come from, we are not racial people,” said Chico Kaonohi. “It wasn’t about race.”

Lawyers for both defendants declined to comment on Thursday. Prosecutors did not immediately respond to an email inquiry comment.

Kunzelman testified that he and his wife decided to move to Maui from Scottsdale, Arizona after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He said his wife loved the island.

He said a Hawaiian woman visited him in his dreams and told him to buy the dilapidated oceanfront home, which he and his wife bought at sight for $175,000 after stumbling upon an online ad.

Kunzelman and his family never made it to the house, he testified. They now reside in Puerto Rico.

He sat in the courtroom and watched as the verdict was announced. He could not be reached immediately for comment later.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *