White takes stand in attempted murder trial

  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Joel Hanalei White testifies on his own behalf Monday in Hilo Circuit Court.

A 40-year-old Waimea man on trial for slitting his friend’s throat in the latter’s Waikoloa apartment more than five years ago described the victim as a “young punk drug dealer” and “sort of a gangster wannabee.”

Joel Hanalei White, who’s charged with attempted second-degree murder, doesn’t deny slitting the throat of Jeremy Nicholas, then 20, and stabbing Nicholas multiple times on April 17, 2014. White told a Hilo Circuit Court jury of nine men and three women he did so in self-defense and in defense of his then-girlfriend, Ahlea Giles, who was asleep on Nicholas’ bed.

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White, who said he was earning “between $20,000 and $40,000 a month” selling timeshares for Hilton Grand Vacations, admitted that he regularly bought cocaine from Nicholas — a self-admitted cocaine dealer — but said he wasn’t under the influence of the drug when the stabbing occurred.

According to White, he had gone to Nicholas’ apartment to retrieve Giles, but said he couldn’t rouse Giles from her slumber.

“With her, it was almost always drug related,” White said. “… She was out.”

White said he saw Nicholas sniff cocaine from a computer desk, adding he and Nicholas watched videos of high-performance sports cars racing for “at least a couple of hours, I think,” as Giles continued to sleep. Asked by White’s attorney, Jacob Delaplane, if White had taken cocaine that day, he replied, “No. Not that day. I wasn’t there for that. I was there just to pick up Ahlea.”

According to White, when he told Nicholas he had to go home because of work the following morning, Nicholas became aggressive, punched White unexpectedly and brought up a drug journal he thought Giles had stolen. White said Nicholas referred to Giles as a “narc” and threatened them both.

“When he said, ‘I’m gonna kill you f—–s,’ that was pretty real,” White testified. “… All I could think in my head was to stop him from getting a gun, ’cause I can’t outrun a bullet.”

White said he doesn’t remember using a Leatherman bladed tool to slit Nicholas’ throat or to stab Nicholas in the back. But he testified he recalls being in the room of Nicholas’ elderly landlady, who also lived in the house, and seeing blood all over Nicholas.

“I must’ve ran there, because it was across the whole house,” he said. “I told her (Nicholas) attacked me.”

White said he became concerned about Giles’ and his safety because Nicholas previously told him he had hidden guns in the house. He said he thought Nicholas was trying to retrieve a firearm from the landlady’s room or closet. He said Nicholas had showed him a Sig Sauer handgun, an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and a shotgun. According to White, he and Nicholas conversed often about firearms.

“He wanted to buy guns,” White told the jury. “He said he wanted to purchase any kind of guns.”

White said he remembered following Nicholas as he ran back toward his own portion of the house, but doesn’t remember if he was stabbing Nicholas as that occurred.

“I wasn’t going to leave Ahlea there with him trying to get a gun,” White said.

Nicholas, who testified Aug. 29 his throat was slit from behind, unprovoked, as he sat at his computer desk, managed to escape the house and make it to the home of a neighbor, who helped stem the flow of blood and called 911. Nicholas admitted he knew police had found a loaded handgun registered to another friend in a nightstand in his room. He said he didn’t that know the friend, who had stayed with Nicholas for a short time, had left the gun there.

White, who was still at the scene when police arrived, said he was unaware there was about 1 1/2 pounds of cocaine in the house.

“Did you come there that day to rob (Nicholas) of a pound-and-a-half of cocaine?” Delaplane asked.

“No,” White responded.

“What about his money? Did you come there to rob him of his money?” the lawyer inquired.

“No. I had my own,” White replied.

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Attempted second-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment with the possibility of parole, upon conviction. The trial continues today in the courtroom of Judge Henry Nakamoto.

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

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