Leilani shooting suspect makes court appearance

  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald John William "Bill" Hubbard, right, appears Thursday in Hilo District Court with Deputy Public Defender Isaac Ickes.

A 61-year-old Leilani Estates man authorities say was the shooter Tuesday in an incident within the lava-ravaged subdivision that became the subject of a viral video made his initial court appearance Thursday.

John William “Bill” Hubbard is charged with first-degree robbery, carrying a firearm in the commission of a separate felony, being a felon in possession of a firearm, illegally carrying a handgun, having no permit to acquire a firearm and no firearm registration, two counts of reckless endangering, and five counts of first-degree terroristic threatening.

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One of the alleged victims in the case, 32-year-old Ethan Edwards — reportedly the man who was closest to the gunfire — posted a video on Facebook that showed a man police and prosecutors say is Hubbard firing a pistol over the head of a much smaller man during an argument in Leilani Estates.

“This was my yesterday,” Edwards commented on the video post on Wednesday. “Happy to be alive. Be careful out there folks. This situation is really beginning to take its toll psychologically and the bad weather is contributing to emotional tensions. Folks are breaking down.”

A 21-year-old Pahoa woman, who was with Edwards and others, told police Hubbard pointed the handgun at her and demanded her cellphone. After the woman dropped her phone, Hubbard allegedly threw the phone into nearby brush.

No one was physically injured by gunfire, but Edwards reported that he was assaulted and sustained minor injuries.

Two of the charges against Hubbard, first-degree robbery and carrying a firearm in the commission of a separate felony, normally are Class A felonies punishable by up to 20 years apiece. But because the incident happened during a declared emergency and 11 felony charges have been filed, the complaint has language seeking possible extended sentencing if Hubbard is convicted of those charges.

In Hilo District Court, Deputy Public Defender Isaac Ickes asked Judge Mahilani Hiatt to deny the Tribune-Herald’s request to allow courtroom photography.

“Your Honor, there’s been a lot of, I guess, hazing made of this case in social media right now. You know, if (permission to photograph) is granted, it’s our office’s position that it could adversely affect the jury pool in event of a jury trial in this case, and affect Mr. Hubbard’s right to a fair and impartial jury,” Ickes told the judge.

The judge allowed the media to photograph over Ickes’ objection.

Ickes also requested the judge grant Hubbard court-supervised release from custody without bail.

“It’s my understanding that Mr. Hubbard was unavailable for a bail study due to being taken to the hospital for a medical condition,” Ickes said. “I think the fact that Intake Services didn’t go and talk to him shouldn’t be a reason for supervised release to be denied in this case.”

Deputy Prosecutor Christopher Rothfus asked that Hubbard’s $222,000 bail be maintained “based on the seriousness of the charges and the defendant’s out-of-state criminal record.” He said Hubbard’s felony record includes a 1976 drug trafficking conviction in Kentucky and a 1986 Oregon conviction for being an ex-convict in possession of a concealable weapon.

“He is facing the possibility of life imprisonment,” Rothfus said. “… The defendant was arrested within Leilani Estates. It did occur during a state of emergency. And witnesses in this case reported that he was in possession of a firearm. He did fire the gun near one of the witness’ head and did put four other witnesses in danger. My understanding is … the victim did previously reside in Leilani Estates prior to the lava flow.”

Hiatt maintained Hubbard’s bail and ordered him to return at 2 p.m. Friday for a preliminary hearing.

Following Thursday’s hearing, Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth said he intended to prosecute all crimes that take place within the lava zone “to the fullest extent of the law.”

“You know, there’s people whose lives have been devastated because they’ve lost their homes, they’ve lost their livelihoods,” Roth said. “You have first responders who are out in the area who are risking their lives — not only police officers (but) firemen, (Department of Land and Natural Resources), Public Works people that are out there.

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“… We’ve had a few other offenses that have happened in Leilani Estates. … When there have been multiple felonies, we’ve enhanced those felonies. We’ve had cases that have actually happened outside Leilani Estates where we’ve used the emergency powers law, because we’re pulling police officers, we’re pulling firefighters, we’re pulling all sorts of resources in different places. … We’re working closely with the U.S. Attorney. We’re looking for probably the most stringent penalties, whether it be state, federal, or in some cases there’ll be both.”

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

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