KAILUA-KONA — The jury trial of four of the seven defendants accused of aiding suspected cop killer Justin Waiki appears to be on hold amid arguments over appeals and jurisdiction.
Jamie Jason, Krystle Ferreira, Malia Lajala and Jorge Pagan-Torres are charged with two counts of first-degree hindering prosecution, first-degree attempted murder and place to keep pistol or revolver. Jason is additionally charged with two firearms offenses, ownership or possession prohibited fugitive. Lajala faces an additional charge of third-degree promoting a dangerous drug.
Trial for the four conspirators in the death of Hawaii Police Department Officer Bronson Kaliloa was scheduled for June 27 in Kona Circuit Court with Judge Robert D.S. Kim presiding.
But arguments over appeals and jurisdiction have left it at a standstill with no firm trial date now assigned.
The issue at hand stems from Jason’s attorney filing a motion to suppress statements made to police while she was at Hilo Medical Center with a gunshot wound inflicted during Waiki’s deadly encounter with police on July 20, 2018.
Kim granted the motion June 18, thereby barring prosecutors from introducing the woman’s statements as evidence during trial. Kim also ruled that statements made by the other defendants were still admissible, however.
Prosecutors that same day filed a notice of appeal of Kim’s order to the Intermediate Court of Appeals.
It is the prosecutor’s position that once an appeal is filed, all Circuit Court proceedings in the case are suspended and jurisdiction is turned over to the appeals court until a decision is rendered.
But, defense counsels for Ferreira, Lajala and Pagan-Torres argued waiting for a decision from the appeals court would deny their clients’ right to a speedy trial. Moreover, it is within Circuit Court’s jurisdiction to sever the cases.
“I’ve read all the cases. I printed them all out, I read them all. And I don’t see anything that says that the court is divested of jurisdiction in an interlocutory appeal,” said Kim during a June 24 hearing on severing the cases. “There is no case on point. That’s what I don’t have. And I don’t have a case that says the court has jurisdiction either.”
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Sheri Lawson said that the issues in this case are “extremely unique” because Kim’s position is that the stay applies only to the order of suppression for Jason’s statements even though the four defendants were being tried together as one case. That, she said, should suspend any Circuit Court activity until the appeals court resolves the issue.
However, Kim ruled that despite the notice of appeal, he still has jurisdiction over the case, and ordered the trial severed from Jason and proceed with trial for the remaining three defendants, which the prosecution continues to debate.
Previous requests for severance, or trying the four defendants separately, have been denied.
Three other defendants charged in connection with the incident, Kyle Brende, Mokihana Veincent and Taumi Carr, were severed from the case early on to be tried separately. They faced lesser charges than were filed against Jason, Ferreira, Lajala and Pagan-Torres.
Following Kim’s ruling the Circuit Court retained jurisdiction, the prosecution sought relief from the Hawaii Supreme Court in the form of a writ of mandamus. A writ of mandamus is an order from a court to an inferior government official ordering the government official to properly fulfill their official duties or correct an abuse of discretion — in this case, that’s Kim retaining jurisdiction over proceedings.
The Supreme Court left the door open with the July 18 dismissal of the writ without prejudice, providing an avenue for the state to re-file, if necessary. The high court deferred to the appeals court as the avenue for a decision on jurisdiction and whether Circuit Court could proceed with trial of the other three defendants.
However, Kim maintains his authority over the case, but has not assigned a trial date for the remaining three defendants, citing the time it will take to sever the case.
“If I don’t have jurisdiction, I’m obviously not going to move forward,” said Kim at the June 24 hearing. “But I haven’t seen any yet.”
On July 19, the state filed a second motion with the Intermediate Court of Appeals asking it to instruct the trial court, Kim’s court, to stay the proceedings pending the appeal for a ruling on jurisdiction after receiving the decision from the Supreme Court.
“He (Kim) is exercising jurisdiction where we feel it is improper because it went to the ICA,” said Lawson.
Jason, Ferreira, Lajala and Pagan-Torres are accused of assisting Waiki while he was running from authorities after reportedly shooting and killing Kaliloa in Mountain View on July 17, 2018. Kaliloa, a 10-year veteran of the department, died shortly after midnight, July 18, 2018.
Jason along with Ferreira, Lajala and Pagan-Torres were with Waiki when he was caught by officers on July 20, 2018. They were traveling together on South Point Road when they were stopped at a police checkpoint.
During a search of the vehicle, Waiki was found hiding in the back with Jason. Waiki shot at officers, and police returned fire. Waiki died from gunshot wounds. Jason also suffered a gunshot wound and one officer was injured. Both have since recovered. Meanwhile, two of the three other people accused of aiding Waiki whose cases were severed from the case against Jason, Ferreira, Lajala and Pagan-Torres are awaiting sentencing. Trial is scheduled in September for the third suspect.
Recently, Brende pleaded guilty to first-degree hindering prosecution and will be sentenced Aug. 26.
Veincent also changed her plea, pleading guilty to first-degree hindering prosecution earlier this month. Her sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 16.
Carr is charged with two counts first-degree hindering prosecution. Her trial is set for Aug. 20.