A defendant in a Hilo double homicide case reiterated his desire for a new lawyer Monday and told the judge he wants a change of venue, saying his slain girlfriend is related to Hawaii County’s mayor.
“My girlfriend’s cousins with the mayor, Billy Kenoi. This is all corrupted,” said 35-year-old Sean Ivan Masa Matsumoto, who’s accused of the Feb. 11, 2013, shotgun slayings of his girlfriend, 45-year-old Rhonda Lynn Alohalani Ahu and her 74-year-old mother, Elaine Marie Ahu, in their Waiakea Houselots home.
Hilo Circuit Judge Greg Nakamura scheduled trial for 9 a.m. Dec. 1. Matsumoto, who’s being held without bail at Hawaii Community Correctional Center, is charged with first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, three other firearms charges, and reckless endangering.
“I want a new lawyer,” Matsumoto again told Nakamura. The judge denied Matsumoto’s motion to replace Deputy Public Defender Jeff Ng with another attorney last week. The judge replied to Matsumoto’s request, but the courtroom’s audio system was not working, and Nakamura’s response couldn’t be understood from the courtroom gallery.
“He was telling me that he wanted to withdraw from the case,” Matsumoto said, referring to Ng. On July 16, Matsumoto told the judge Ng “thinks I’m guilty” and said he couldn’t be properly represented by a lawyer who thinks he’s guilty. He asked Nakamura to appoint a private attorney to represent him.
Nakamura then told Matsumoto he hadn’t shown good cause to replace Ng and that indigent criminal defendants, whose attorneys are provided by taxpayers, cannot under Hawaii case law have their lawyer replaced without good cause.
According to court documents filed by police, Matsumoto called 911 the night of the shooting “to report that he had just shot two people in his residence.” The documents state that Matsumoto was still on his cell phone with police dispatchers when officers arrived at the Leilani Street home.
Officers found a loaded 12-gauge shotgun on the living room sofa, about seven feet away from one of the victims, documents state.
Matsumoto reportedly told responding officers, “I’m sorry, I know I had the gun in my hand,” and asked, “Is my son OK?”
Two children were in the house when the shootings occurred, police said. Both were physically unharmed. One was Matsumoto and Rhonda Ahu’s son, then 6. The other was Rhonda Ahu’s teenage daughter from a previous relationship.
Matsumoto had generally been either silent or soft-spoken during previous court hearings, but his courtroom demeanor changed during his past two court appearances, after he was found fit to stand trial.
Matsumoto told Nakamura at the July 16 hearing he wouldn’t appear in court again if his request for a new attorney wasn’t granted.
A local defense attorney not involved in the case told the Tribune-Herald the state could try Matsumoto in absentia if he refuses to show up for trial, and that disruptive or unruly defendants are sometimes left in their cells during court proceedings.
Carol Luciano, Elaine Ahu’s sister and Rhonda Ahu’s aunt said after the hearing that Kenoi is related to the younger slain woman and added, “I don’t know how close.”
“But so what,” Luciano said. “… He did the crime. Now it’s time for him to pay the price. It’s so unreal, taking two lives. He didn’t think (about) what he did. And he loves his son? I doubt it.
“If he loves his son, he wouldn’t have done that to his son’s mom.”
Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune- herald.com.