Attempted murder trial in hands of jury

  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Defense attorney Jacob Delaplane presents his closing argument to the jury Wednesday in Hilo Circuit Court.
  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Deputy Prosecutor Annaliese Wolf presents her closing argument to the jury Wednesday in Hilo Circuit Court.
  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald

    Joel Hanalei White listens to closing arguments Wednesday in Hilo Circuit Court.

The prosecutor in an attempted murder trial told the jury during closing arguments Wednesday that they “don’t have to approve of anything” the victim, a drug dealer, did.

The defense attorney countered that the stabbing was in self-defense and pointed to what he described as “big holes in the state’s case.”

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The jury of nine men and three women began deliberations Wednesday afternoon in the case of 40-year-old Joel Hanalei White of Waimea. White is charged with second-degree attempted murder for slitting the throat of Jeremy Nicholas, then 20, and stabbing Nicholas seven times in the back on April 17, 2014, at Nicholas’ Waikoloa residence.

Deputy Prosecutor Annaliese Wolf told jurors that Nicholas — who survived and testified that the stabbing was an unprovoked sneak attack — isn’t the one on trial, and they “are being asked to decide if Joel White is guilty of attempted murder in the second-degree.”

“Everything you’ve heard is consistent with Jeremy’s account,” Wolf said. “… You don’t have to approve of the cocaine in his closet. You don’t have to approve of him selling it to Joel White and Ahlea.”

Ahlea is White’s then-girlfriend, Ahlea Giles, who was asleep on Nicholas’ bed when White showed up at Nicholas’ studio apartment. Wolf said White watched computer videos of luxury sports cars with Nicholas for “anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour or more.”

“The next thing that Mr. Nicholas remembers is a hand … reaching across and slicing his throat,” she said. “… There was no struggle here. It was a clean cut across Jeremy Nicholas’ neck. … Mr. White meant to make that cut. He meant to kill Jeremy Nicholas.”

“Half his windpipe was severed,” Wolf continued, describing Nicholas’ injuries as a “gaping throat and seven back wounds.”

According to Wolf, the only evidence of a disturbance in Nicholas’ room was a computer table tray bent upward, a chair knocked over as Nicholas attempted to escape — and a trail of blood through the house and outside as Nicholas ran to seek help.

“There wasn’t a fight in that room. Mr. White says he got punched and grabbed Jeremy,” she said. “Where is the evidence of that punch? He doesn’t have a black eye. There’s no sign of facial abrasions on him.”

Wolf described the stab wounds on Nicholas’ back as “past any possible point of self-defense.”

Wolf pointed out the handgun found in the nightstand wasn’t registered to Nicholas and there wasn’t any evidence to refute his contention he didn’t know it was there. And again, the prosecutor told jurors Nicholas’ activities didn’t warrant a brutal assault.

“It’s not pretty what Jeremy did. You don’t have to like it,” Wolf said.

Jacob Delaplane, White’s Honolulu-based lawyer, opened his hour-plus monologue before the jury by describing Wolf’s argument as “a glass half-full … take on this whole thing.”

“Don’t worry about a loaded gun that’s in an open drawer in a nightstand next to a bed that’s in reaching distance,” Delaplane said. “Don’t worry about the fact that Jeremy has lied about the gun. … Jeremy lied about what happened that day. None of what Jeremy said is consistent with what the evidence showed.”

“The guy even looked up gun manuals. Gun manuals! On the internet. Who does that?” he continued, rhetorically. “Well, the prosecutor got up there and told you (Nicholas) has the same interest in guns as any boy his age. Really? There are a whole army of boys out there lookin’ up gun manuals on the internet, goin’ to the range every chance they get, learnin’ about all these guns? No, there’s not.

“The reason Jeremy was into guns is the same reason he was into expensive cars and all those expensive sneakers …. He’s a punk drug dealer. He’s a 20-year-old drug dealer. He’s out there tryin’ to put out a certain image. He’s got a lifestyle that he wants to lead. You heard Sgt. (Erich) Jackson talk about guns and how they’re related to … drug dealers. They keep guns. Why would you keep guns? Because you got over $50,000 worth of cocaine in your house.”

Delaplane took aim at the police investigation, pointing to it as the “very first” murder or attempted murder case for Detective Levon Stevens as lead investigator.

“He wasn’t interested in the idea of self-defense,” Delaplane said. “He didn’t want to see anything about that gun. He didn’t investigate the gun. Hell, he didn’t even talk to the complaining witness. He never talked, not once, to Jeremy Nicholas. The lead investigator on an attempted murder case never once spoke to the complaining witness. I guess that wouldn’t be important to an investigation.”

According to Delaplane, Nicholas lied to a Honolulu detective who questioned him at The Queen’s Medical Center about a one-night stand with Giles that Nicholas admitted to on the witness stand.

“Yet he gets up here and tells you, roughly five years later, that he thinks the motive for Mr. White slittin’ his throat is because he slept with Ahlea Giles about a month before,” Delaplane said. “… He denied havin’ anything goin’ on with the girlfriend in his very first statements to police.”

Delaplane then questioned the prosecution’s decision to not have Giles testify.

“Why didn’t the state call the girlfriend in to clarify that? When the state has a burden as high as disproving something beyond a reasonable doubt, you expect the state to take the bull by the horns and … give you all the evidence.”

Delaplane told the jury they are “not here to decide what happened that day.”

“You’re here to decide whether the state has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. White is guilty of attempted murder,” he elaborated. “You’re also here, because the defense has been raised, to decide whether the state has disproven that self-defense was justified.

“They have to disprove it beyond a reasonable doubt.”

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The jury continues deliberations today. If convicted, White faces a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment with the possibility of parole.

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

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