Defendant takes the stand in hotel security guard beating case

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Lama Lauvao takes the stand in his own defense during trial Wednesday in Kona Circuit Court.

  • Natisha Tautalatasi
  • Wesley Samoa

KEALAKEKUA — One of three people charged in the attempted murder of a hotel security guard took the stand Wednesday during the third day of trial, telling jurors he was inebriated and never intended to kill the man during the Sept. 17 incident.

Lama Lauvao, who along with Wesley Samoa and Natisha Tautalatasi, is on trial for attempted second-degree murder in connection with the beating at the Kona Seaside Hotel that critically injured security guard, John Kanui, testified in his own defense.

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“I wasn’t in the right when I kicked him. Kanui grabbed my wife and I hit him. I kicked him again. I made very poor decisions,” Lauvao testified during questioning by his attorney, Andrew Kennedy. “I was not trying to kill him, I was very angry and was drinking all day.”

“I’ve seen what condition he is in now and am definitely not happy with what happened,” Lauvao continued. “I pray for this man and his family. I want to find peace between myself and his family, I am a man of faith.”

Lauvao recounted the defendants’ activities leading up to the incident at the hotel that night, telling the court he, Tautalatasi, Samoa and Mahealani Kanehailua spent the afternoon at a family barbecue at Old Kona Airport Park before taking the party to Samoa’s parent’s home until about 10:30 p.m. At that point, he testified, they left for Sam’s Hideaway.

After deciding they’d had enough alcohol for the day, Lauvao said they left the bar about 11:45 p.m.

As the surveillance video was played again for the court, Lauvao explained what happened after they arrived at the hotel.

He testified that he was trying to get between his fiancee, Tautalatasi, and Kanui to defuse a verbal confrontation between the two.

Things got out of hand, he said, when Kanui pulled Tautalatasi into the cart with him as he fell back.

But Lauvao said he was trying to prevent anything from happening because of the amount of alcohol consumed by the group that day.

“It all happened very quickly. I made poor choices that night,” he testified, before the court broke for the day.

Trial is set to resume today.

Prior to Lauvao, Kennedy’s lone witness, taking the stand, three physicians who treated Kanui testified to the extent of the victim’s injuries.

Marisa Hori was the emergency room physician at Kona Community Hospital when Kanui was brought in for treatment. She said Kanui was in critical condition and unresponsive when she first assessed him. A CAT scan showed a subdural hematoma on the brain, orbital fracture and a broken neck.

“He was at risk of death and on life support at the hospital,” Hori testified.

Asked what could cause such an injury, she replied “high velocity impact.”

Hori indicated that Kanui needed a higher level of care than Kona Community Hospital could provide and had him transferred to The Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu for further treatment.

Matthew Koenig, a neurologist at Queen’s, testified that Kanui’s spinal cord injury resulted in permanent quadriplegia and he suffered strokes as a result of the injury.

A video of Kanui at Craig Hospital in Denver was played for the jury while his daughter, Jennifer Farrell, was on the stand. It showed Kanui being hoisted by a lift in order to be placed in a wheelchair. He showed limited movement in his biceps but no ability to move his extremities.

Hawaii Police Department officer Leonard Warren took the stand next. He stated that when he arrived at the hotel Sept. 17, he encountered an angry and agitated Samoa.

“We didn’t do anything … he started it. He deserved what he got, he deserved what happened to him,” Warren stated that Samoa told him.

The prosecution then rested.

Tautalatasi’s attorney, William Reece, who did not make an opening statement Tuesday, began the defense portion of the trial with his statement.

He said Tautalatasi had no recollection of what happened that night and when she viewed the surveillance video, she was horrified to see what happened.

The day ended following Lauvao’s testimony. Tautalatasi is expected to take the stand today in her defense.

Lauvao, Samoa and Tautalatasi remain in custody in lieu of $250,000 bail each.

If convicted, each faces life imprisonment with the possibility of parole and up to a $50,000 fine.

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Kanehailua of Kona was indicted in November by a Big Island grand jury on a charge of attempted first-degree hindering prosecution in connection with the September incident. She was acquitted of the charge following a bench trial in May.

Email Laura Ruminski at lruminski@westhawaiitoday.com.

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