Jury hands down verdict in security guard beating trial

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Lama Lauvao and Natisha Tautalatasi are led out of the courtroom after the jury delivered its verdict Tuesday.

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Wesley Samoa gestures to his family Tuesday after the jury delivered its verdict Tuesday.

KEALAKEKUA — The jury returned its verdict Tuesday in the trial against Wesley Samoa, Natisha Tautalatasi and Lama Lauvao, who were each charged with attempted murder in the Sept. 17, 2018, beating of hotel security guard John Kanui.

The nine-woman, three-man jury found Samoa and Tautalatasi guilty of attempted second-degree murder. They face life in prison with the possibility of parole.

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Lauvao was convicted of the lesser charge of first-degree assault and faces up to 10 years in prison.

The verdict came after the jury repeatedly viewed the 25-minute video surveillance of the Kona Seaside Hotel security guard being beaten by the defendants until he laid motionless on the ground. After a break for one minute, Tautalatasi resumed kicking and punching the victim.

The prosecution presented witnesses from the police department, hotel employees, physicians and a family member.

Tautalatasi and Lauvao testified earlier on their own behalf and were the only defense witnesses.

Tautalatasi started weeping as the verdict was read. Samoa and Lauvao remained stoic.

After their fates were decided and the jury dismissed, Samoa apologized to the Kanui ohana seated in the gallery as he was escorted out of the courtroom. Lauvao also addressed the security guard’s family, asking for forgiveness.

“The state is pleased with the verdict rendered,” said Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Sheri Lawson. “It is just and appropriate.”

Lawson said she was thankful justice was brought for Kanui.

“We are happy with the decision,” said Kanui’s niece, Candi Runn. “But it doesn’t change what happened to Uncle.”

The defense counsel declined to comment.

The prosecution presented a case of attempted second-degree murder against all three defendants.

“The defendants acted to kill, a coordinated effort to violently and viciously attack him while he was doing his job,” Lawson said during closing arguments Friday.

“You can see from the video intentional acts … kicks … punches,” she said. “This is not a reckless act, it’s purposeful.”

Samoa and Tautalatasi’s defense placed blame on the victim.

Samoa’s attorney, Barry Sooalo, said during his closing argument that his client acted appropriately and his actions were justified. He stated that each person has to be responsible for their part in the assault and to place accountability where it belongs, with Kanui, the aggressor.

Tautalatasi’s attorney, William Reece, echoed that sentiment.

“Mr. Kanui should not have disrespected Miss Tautalatasi. He invited the melee. He escalated it,” Reece said during his closing arguments.

Reece also blamed the severity of Kanui’s injuries on the paramedics who treated him at the scene.

Andrew Kennedy, who represented Lauvao, admitted his client knew what he did was wrong, but he did not intend to kill Kanui.

“Lama only got involved when Tisha was pulled into the cart. It was an assault … a bad assault but not attempted murder,” Kennedy said during his closing.

Kanui remains a quadriplegic in a long-term care facility on the mainland.

Families of the defendants and Kanui met outside the courtroom after the verdict was handed down. Hugs were exchanged.

“Say a prayer for all sides,” said a member of the Kanui ohana.

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Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 13 in Kona Circuit Judge Melvin Fujino’s courtroom.

Email Laura Ruminski at lruminski@westhawaiitoday.com.

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