Trial begins for man accused of carjacking

MICHAEL BRESTOVANSKY/Tribune-Herald Alleged serial carjacker Mason Beck appears Wednesday in Hilo Circuit Court.

A 30-year-old Puna man appeared in court Wednesday for the first day of his trial on charges of carjacking and kidnapping.

Mason Beck faces two counts each of first-degree robbery and unauthorized control of a stolen vehicle, and single counts of attempted first-degree robbery, kidnapping and contempt of court.

Beck’s charges stem from a series of incidents in March 2017, when a man allegedly stole two vehicles by threatening their drivers with weapons and attempted to steal a third by the same methods.

In the first incident, on March 15, 2017, a hitchhiker was picked up by a visitor from Germany near Pahoa, before the hitchhiker threatened the driver with a nail gun, eventually forcing the driver from the vehicle.

The second incident, nine days later, also involved a hitchhiker who pulled a weapon on a driver, this time in Keaau, and this time wielding a knife.

A third attempted robbery occurred the following day, again near Pahoa, but the hitchhiker fled the vehicle after the driver attracted attention by honking the car’s horn in a populated area.

The trial commenced Wednesday in spite of complaints by Beck, who requested to have his attorney, Robert Curtis, removed from his case and replaced with another attorney.

Curtis, Beck argued, failed to appropriately vet jurors during jury selection earlier in the week. One juror had stated “he’s already guilty in her mind,” Beck claimed, and yet the juror was appointed to be one of the 12 on the jury.

Beck also said he was forced to use one of a limited number of strikes during the jury selection process to remove a juror who was a relative of the police officer who arrested him in 2017.

“It’s not a jury of my peers — they’re the peers of the people who arrested me,” Beck said. “It’s, like, the textbook definition of bias.”

Curtis filed an oral motion for a mistrial, which was summarily rejected by Circuit Court Judge Greg Nakamura, who said about the situation “it is what it is.”

Nakamura also rejected Curtis’ motion for a change of attorney, saying that Beck’s disagreements with Curtis regarding his defense strategy were not sufficient cause to remove an attorney from a case.

Beck also refused to wear civilian clothes when appearing in court, opting instead to wear his orange-and-white striped prison jumpsuit. Beck justified this decision by asking why he should hide from the jury that he is in custody.

While Nakamura did not force the issue, he warned Beck that choosing to dress like an inmate might prejudice him in the eyes of the jury, who might only perceive him as an inmate, not innocent until proven guilty.

Beck’s robbery, attempted robbery and kidnapping charges are all punishable by up to 20 years in prison, while the unauthorized control charges are punishable by up to five years.

Email Michael Brestovansky at