A 40-year-old Waimea man was sentenced Tuesday to 10 years in prison for slashing the throat of a drug dealer and repeatedly stabbing him more than 5 1/2 years ago.
Hilo Circuit Judge Henry Nakamoto handed down the sentence to Joel Hanalei White. A jury on Sept. 12 convicted White, who was charged with second-degree attempted murder, of the lesser offense of first-degree assault. The sentence is the maximum for the Class B felony offense, and White will receive credit for time served.
White admitted to slashing the throat of Jeremy Nicholas, then 20, and stabbing him seven times in the back on April 17, 2014, at Nicholas’ studio apartment in Waikoloa. Nicholas, an admitted drug dealer, claimed the attack was unprovoked. White maintained Nicholas threatened to kill him and White’s then-girlfriend, Ahlea Giles, and he acted in self-defense.
Police found a handgun registered to Nicholas’ friend, Keoni Cassidy, plus a knife, in an open nightstand next to Nicholas’ bed. Officers also found about 1 1/2 pounds of cocaine in Nicholas’ home, but he wasn’t charged with the drug offense because of a defective search warrant, prosecutors said.
Deputy Prosecutor Shannon Kagawa argued for the maximum prison sentence.
“Jeremy Nicholas did suffer life-threatening injuries and … Joel White was the cause of these injuries. That’s not in dispute,” Kagawa said. “… Defendant Joel White’s actions were unprovoked. He could’ve easily left the house before the incident. He could’ve easily left the house after he first slit Jeremy’s throat. But instead, he followed Mr. Nicholas to (the landlady’s) room. He then stabbed him. He then could’ve left the house again. However, he chose not to, and he continued to follow Jeremy out of the house.
“What concerns the state the most in this matter is that there’s no real reason, no motive. Even Mr. White himself said things were fine; there was no argument, nothing that happened before this incident of slitting the throat.”
Kagawa added that the pre-sentence report states White “expresses no remorse” for the near-fatal stabbing. She added the incident, the circumstances surrounding it and “the safety of the community” warrants the 10-year sentence.
Jacob Delaplane, White’s Honolulu-based attorney, argued his client should receive probation.
“I’m not going to get up here and say the injury wasn’t severe. It was. Jeremy almost died,” Delaplane said. “But Mr. White almost died that day, too. Ahlea almost died that day, too. There was a loaded gun in an open drawer right there in the room. There were drugs all around. There’s plenty of motive. There’s plenty of things to protect. There was a knife there, too. Obviously, there was a fight. Obviously, there was a scuffle. It’s certainly a mitigating factor and something this court can’t ignore. And I implore the court to please look past the gruesome injury that the victim had in this case, because it is gruesome and it is terrible. And he’s lucky to be alive.
“But Mr. White’s lucky to be alive, too. Ahlea Giles is lucky to be alive, too. There was no innocent party there.”
White addressed the court, reading from a prepared statement, said he had “a lot of time to think,” realizes he made bad choices and is “completely sorry for my part in what happened.”
“I take full responsibility for my actions that day,” White said. “I know now that while I felt both Ahlea’s and my lives were in danger, I was responsible for putting us in a dangerous situation in the first place. It was my addiction to cocaine, as well as my willingness to fund Ahlea’s addiction, that led us to Jeremy’s house in the first place.
“Had I made better choices, we would’ve never ended up at our drug dealer’s house.”
White continued to maintain Nicholas threatened both his and Giles’ lives and the attack was a reaction to that.
“I’m thankful we’re all alive, and I’m thankful we all have the opportunity to improve our lives and make better choices,” he said.
While passing sentence, Nakamoto said Nicholas “did not induce or facilitate the commission of the offense” and the crime involved “great violence, great bodily harm” and “acts indicating a high degree of cruelty.”
The sentence comes in a retrial for White, who was convicted May 7, 2015, by a Kona jury of the attempted second-degree murder charge, which carries a mandatory sentence of life with the possibility of parole. But Kona Circuit Judge Ronald Ibarra, who has since retired, granted the retrial after White’s lawyers argued the court erred in failing to instruct the jury about extreme mental or emotional disturbance — also known as EMED — as a possible factor in the stabbing, and also for not allowing the jury the possibility of considering the lesser charge of attempted manslaughter.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.