Shooting suspect’s hearing turns combative

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A preliminary hearing for the defendant in a Christmas Eve morning shooting incident degenerated Friday into a flurry of objections, an outburst from the courtroom gallery and a shouting match between the prosecutor and defense attorney.

A preliminary hearing for the defendant in a Christmas Eve morning shooting incident degenerated Friday into a flurry of objections, an outburst from the courtroom gallery and a shouting match between the prosecutor and defense attorney.

Jake Lee, one of two alleged victims, testified that Helani Ezekiel Kenui threatened to rob him and shot out the driver’s side window of his car as he and his passenger, Anthony Palermo, were leaving the parking lot of the Frito-Lay warehouse on Makaala Street in the Kanoelehua Industrial Area of Hilo.

Kenui, a 35-year-old Pahoa man, has pleaded not guilty to attempted first-degree murder, two counts of attempted second-degree murder and four firearms charges.

Lee, a 27-year-old Hilo man, testified under direct examination by Deputy Prosecutor Joseph Lee, that he picked up the 26-year-old Palermo at Hilo Propane, which Palermo’s father owns, took him to meet a friend at Wainaku county gym, and then returned, but turned into the Frito-Lay parking lot next door, saying, “I just chose to turn into that parking lot.”

Jake Lee said Palermo got out of his car and he was approached by Kenui, who works for Frito-Lay. He testified Kenui asked him “who we were and what we were doing there, and if we don’t belong there … to get out of there, and asked if we wanted to get jacked.”

The prosecutor asked what the word “jacked” was three times, then asked for the spelling, to which the witness replied, “j-a-c-k-e-d” and explained the meaning of the word is “robbed.”

Jake Lee said Palermo returned to the car during the confrontation and he saw Kenui point a silver gun “with both hands … towards my vehicle.” He said he “put the car in drive, then I ducked and hit the gas.” He said he heard a gunshot and “my driver’s side window shattered.”

“How did you feel when you heard the gunshot?” the prosecutor asked.

“Afraid … scared … I thought it might hit me,” the witness replied and said Palermo found a bullet fragment in the driver’s seat behind where Jake Lee was sitting.

Defense attorney Brian De Lima’s narrative during cross-examination was that Jake Lee and Palermo were selling drugs in the Frito-Lay parking lot and Kenui, an employee at the snack-food company’s warehouse, was there working.

“What we believe the case to be is that Mr. Lee and Mr. Palermo were involved in a drug transaction. Furthermore, Mr. Lee and Mr. Palermo, they were in this car together. Mr. Palermo, he was arrested because —” De Lima said.

“I’m sorry, I’m gonna object at this point,” Deputy Prosecutor Lee interjected, and an argument ensued.

“This is totally irrelevant … and mere speculation. … Mr. De Lima weaves a very good story, but at this point, that’s all that it is. It’s up to the court to decide what the truth is,” the prosecutor said.

De Lima asked Jake Lee numerous times about a purple Toyota 4-Runner and a light-blue Nissan Pathfinder that he said “came near” the witness’s vehicle in the parking lot.

“I don’t remember,” Jake Lee replied.

“Would it be accurate to say that Mr. Palermo left the vehicle and came back and provided some cash? You got some cash,” De Lima asked.

“No.”

“Did you get any cash at any time from Mr. Palermo that day?”

“No.”

“Did Mr. Kenui come out while the 4-Runner and Nissan Pathfinder were near your vehicle?”

The prosecutor objected, and at that point, De Lima accused the prosecutor of “speaking objections” — improper because they are suggestive and argumentative rather than concise and stating a specific ground for the objection.

“That’s not only unethical but improper,” De Lima argued. “He should be sanctioned for his conduct.” Turning to the prosecutor, De Lima asked, “What are you afraid of, Mr. Lee?”

“Your Honor, I’m going to object and ask that counsel be instructed to stop the personal attacks,” the prosecutor countered. “Secondly, I would ask Mr. De Lima to confine his statements to evidence. Not hearsay. Not gossip.”

“Mr. Lee, Mr. De Lima, both of you stop!” admonished Hilo District Judge Dakota Frenz. “Everybody is using speaking objections this afternoon. Both of you are doing it and no, you shouldn’t be doing it. Make an objection. Give me the basis for your objection. … And stop addressing each other. Address the court.”

Again, De Lima asked about the 4-Runner and Pathfinder. The prosecutor objected again and was overruled, with Frenz saying, “It’s cross-exam.”

After the objection was overruled, De Lima again asked about the 4-Runner and the Pathfinder and the prosecutor again objected.

“You gave him instructions and then he does it again!” De Lima exclaimed. “What you afraid of? That’s so unfair.”

At that point, a young woman in the back of the courtroom gallery stood and shouted: “You know what is unfair? My friend sitting here and this witness over here so far don’t know s—-!” The prosecutor asked that the woman be removed, when she said, “Helani, I love you. I’m goin’ be there no matter what. Witness don’t know jacks—-! F—- that! F—- him!”

The woman then left the courtroom.

De Lima asked Jake Lee if he was aware Palermo was arrested for possession of heroin on Saturday, again prompting the hearsay objection from the prosecutor.

Jake Lee testified he called his mother, but not police, after he arrived at Home Depot, but said police were there within 15 minutes, anyway.

The police booking log shows Palermo was arrested Saturday and charged with possession of a dangerous drug and drug paraphernalia. According to the complaint, the drug was heroin, but says the date of the actual offense was Oct. 6. Court records indicate prosecutors dropped the charges Tuesday.

De Lima argued Jake Lee’s testimony isn’t consistent with robbery.

“Our argument is, essentially … Anthony Palermo and Jake Lee are drug dealers and they … were there that day selling drugs. So, it goes to the credibility of this witness, and to our theory of what occurred, that they drove off. … They didn’t call 911. He never called the police. He called his mother.

“Now, if (Kenui) was going to rob him, as he first indicated, he’s not going to say, ‘What are you folks doing here?’ and ‘You shouldn’t be here.’ That’s inconsistent with (the prosecutor’s) theory of the case. … Now, I’m asking (Jake Lee) if he’s aware that Anthony Palermo was arrested for possession of heroin. … That’s not speculation.”

The hearing wasn’t completed, so Frenz scheduled continuation for 1:30 p.m. March 17 and maintained Kenui’s bail at $1.525 million.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.