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Trial begins for brothers accused of murder

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Retired police detective Walter Ah Mow, during the first day of a murder trial for Eber and Miranda-Garcia on Tuesday, displays a riffle found near the body of Dolores "Lolo" Borja-Valle.
  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Marlon Miranda Garcia appears in court Tuesday on the first day of trial.

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Eber Miranda Garcia appears in court Tuesday on the first day of trial.

KEALAKEKUA — Several photographs and pieces of evidence were presented to a jury during the first day of trial for two brothers accused of murder and conspiracy.

On Tuesday, Deputy Prosecutor Sheri Lawson and defense counselors Wendy DeWeese and Terri Fujioka-Lilley provided opening statements in Kona Circuit Court. DeWeese represents Marlon Miranda-Garcia and Fujioka-Lilley represents his older brother, Eber Miranda-Garcia.

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The Miranda-Garcias are on trial for the murder of Dolores “Lolo” Borja-Valle, who was found dead Aug. 9, 2015, in a Captain Cook coffee field off Keopuka Mauka Road. They face charges of second-degree murder and second-degree conspiracy to commit murder.

The brothers pleaded not guilty in September.

“This case is about technology and words,” Lawson told the jury Tuesday. She said detectives will tell the jury about DNA evidence collected. “Technology is what led to a break in the case.”

Lawson said police had three scenes: the first was where Borja-Valle’s body was found on Keopuka Mauka Road. The second was his home in Holualoa and the third was Prince Kuhio Boulevard in Ka‘u, where police recovered Borja-Valle’s truck.

Lawson added that detectives had phone numbers from the brothers when they were interviewed at the time Borja-Valle was found, as they were tenants at Borja-Valle’s Holualoa home. Those phone numbers were found to be connected to cell towers near Keopuka Mauka Road and Prince Kuhio Boulevard the night Borja-Valle disappeared.

“You will hear Eber tell detectives how he beat Lolo,” Lawson told the jury.

Lawson added that Eber Miranda-Garcia was mad at Borja-Valle because he threatened to take his family away and have him deported.

“Smoke and mirrors,” DeWeese said during her opening statement. “You will hear no evidence linking Marlon to the crime. You won’t hear about any DNA from Marlon because there wasn’t any.”

DeWeese told the jury they wouldn’t find a murder weapon and they wouldn’t hear about signs of a struggle.

“Marlon had no motive to kill Mr. Borja-Valle,” she said.

DeWeese said jurors would hear about Marlon Miranda-Garcia’s cellphone. She added that the cellphone connected to towers in the coverage area, but jurors won’t see the content of the texts or who was using that phone.

“There were 45 other phone numbers connected at that time,” DeWeese said.

Fujioka-Lilley was last to present her opening statement.

“This case does involve a gruesome murder — something you don’t think would ever happen here on the island,” she told the jury.

In this trial, Fujioka-Lilley said, jurors won’t learn when Borja-Valle was killed.

“Most importantly, we won’t know who killed Lolo,” she said.

Fujioka-Lilley said police think they found DNA evidence of Eber Miranda-Garcia in Borja-Valle’s truck and on the butt of a rifle found at the scene where his body was found. She added DNA testing done at the Honolulu crime lab was inconclusive.

Fujioka-Lilley also addressed Eber Miranda-Garcia’s confession to police. She agreed it was an important piece of evidence in the trial.

“He didn’t know Lolo had been stabbed,” she said. “He didn’t know Lolo had been laid out in that coffee field.”

After opening statements, Lawson called retired Hawaii Police Department Detective Walter Ah Mow to the stand. He was the lead detective at the time Borja-Valle’s body was discovered.

Ah Mow identified several photos from the scene where the body was found and pictures of Borja-Valle’s injuries taken during the autopsy Aug. 11, 2015.

Pictures were taken of the road and embankment as well as Borja-Valle’s body. Evidence collected at the time were two white blankets, a black trash bag that covered the top portion of Borja-Valle’s body, a rifle, a piece of purple rope and a McDonald’s receipt.

Lawson submitted all pieces of evidence to the court.

“At first, we had no suspects and no witnesses,” Ah Mow told the court.

With each photo, Lawson asked Ah Mow if it was a “fair and accurate representation of what he observed.” The retired detective responded “yes” each time.

Ah Mow described Borja-Valle’s body as it was found on Keopuka Mauka Road. The 69-year-old’s arms were raised above his head as if someone carried him and he was in a state of rigor mortis. Ah Mow also noted trauma to Borja-Valle’s facial area.

Because of the lack of blood at the scene, Ah Mow testified that the crime could not have happened on Keopuka Mauka Road. Detectives eventually suspected Borja-Valle was killed at his home in Holualoa.

An injury behind the Borja-Valle’s right ear became of interest because, Ah Mow said, it appears something penetrated his skull and into his brain.

Lawson presented photos of Borja-Valle’s Holualoa home into evidence. Ah Mow said a search warrant was served Aug. 11, 2015, at the home off Mamalahoa Highway. A warrant also was prepared for his truck, which was located Aug. 10, 2015, when a report of a suspicious vehicle on Prince Kuhio Boulevard came through to police.

Ah Mow testified police first made contact with residents at Borja-Valle’s home on Aug. 10 as they worked to positively identify him. The tenants they came into contact with were Eber Miranda-Garcia and his wife, Jessilyn Lokelani Hoohuli. Police didn’t know of Marlon or a third brother, Himer, at that time.

Ah Mow told the court there appeared to be no signs of a struggle inside the residence. However, there were blood stains discovered in the carport.

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The trial is slated to resume Thursday.

Email Tiffany DeMasters at tdemasters@westhawaiitoday.com.