The fate of a 32-year-old Hilo man accused of shooting two police officers early last year is in the hands of a jury.
Closing arguments were presented Wednesday in the trial of Keaka Martin, accused of two counts of attempted first-degree murder and numerous other charges in the nonfatal shootings of Hilo patrol officers Garrett Hatada and Joshua Gouveia. Both officers sustained gunshot wounds to their lower extremities the night of Jan. 2, 2013, in the parking lot of the Pono Place on Kilauea Avenue in Hilo, at the site of the former Green Onion cocktail lounge.
If convicted of first-degree attempted murder, Martin faces a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Hatada and Gouveia since returned to duty and both testified in the trial, which began Feb. 26.
Deputy Prosecutor Darien Nagata told jurors Martin intended to kill the officers to avoid being arrested and jailed on an outstanding warrant.
Steve Strauss, Martin’s court-appointed attorney, told the jury neither officer could identify Martin as the shooter, could not prove intent to kill beyond a reasonable doubt and could not rule out the possibility Hatada shot Gouveia when he returned fire.
Nagata described Gouveia, who testified he was on his left knee, crouching and shining a flashlight under a black, modified van when gunfire erupted, as “a target of opportunity, a bull’s eye for the defendant.”
“Defendant shot at Officer Joshua Gouveia not once, but twice,” she said. “The first one hit him in the hip. The second one missed. … Just because the defendant didn’t complete the job doesn’t mean he didn’t try.
“… Officer Hatada had turned, was still at the side of the truck, and was trying to get away. He heard three shots and immediately felt the pain. Why shoot at someone, an officer, who was trying to get away. He was trying to kill him.”
Nagata said Martin “pulled a Houdini to hide from the cops before they arrived” by disappearing beneath the van.
Police mounted a manhunt, including sending the Special Response Team, the department’s SWAT unit, to Martin’s sister’s East Palai Street home the following day. Martin was arrested there but only after shooting himself in the chest with a 9-mm pistol.
“Jair ‘Bubba’ Trail (Martin’s nephew) said that the defendant crawled around in the living room and said, ‘The cops are here,’” Nagata said. “The defendant then hears the police (say), ‘Keaka Martin, this is the police. Come out.’ And then the defendant pulls out his weapon, the 9-millimeter black-and-silver pistol, loads a round into the chamber, pulls the trigger and falls to the ground.”
Nagata said Martin told Trail he’d “rather die than to go to jail.”
Strauss argued the case was about “identity, intent and fear,” and pointed out neither officer could identify Martin from a photographic lineup. He also said Nagata mischaracterized Hatada’s testimony.
“In its closing statement, the state argued repeatedly — three times I think — that Officer Hatada was trying to run away when he was shot. Is that what he really testified to?” Strauss said. “Wasn’t his testimony that he stood up, trying to get a better firing angle, when he was shot? He may have turned, but he certainly wasn’t running away. And isn’t it true that Officer Hatada testified that he only retreated after he was shot.”
Strauss said that when Hatada returned fire, Gouveia was in the line of fire.
“Officer Hatada testified he fired in the direction … of the black van,” he said. “… Officer Gouveia couldn’t identify where the shot that hit him came from.”
He also accused the state of attempting to “shape testimony” from witnesses.
“When Detective Grant Todd testified that Officer Hatada was shot when running away, when there is no evidence to support it, Detective Grant Todd was attempting to instill … passion or prejudice against the defendant,” he said. “If the suspect shoots a fleeing officer with his back turned towards him, that’s really bad. That’s not what the evidence shows in this case but that’s what Detective Todd wanted you to believe. That never happened.”
Strauss also sought to impeach the testimony of prosecution witnesses Hotina Paulino, Kawika Paulino and Maria Sabater-Hart.
“The state did not give you much background on these people. They didn’t even ask them about their occupations. But you know that they each agreed to mislead the police. You also heard that Hotina Paulino and Maria Sabater-Hart were in drug court together on Maui,” he said. “… These identification witnesses provided by the state admitted that they lied to the police. They falsified reports.”
He added the state did not meet the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt the shooter intended to kill the officers.
“After both officers were hit, they were completely exposed,” Strauss said. “The covering officer, Keith Nacis, had run away looking for cover to protect himself. Officer Gouveia crawled on hands and knees past the illuminated patch of ground in Keith Nacis’ headlights with his back and the back of his head from the last place he suspected harm had come from, the black van. Completely defenseless.
“… Officer Hatada likewise testified that he was exposed during a period of time … with no cover, no eyes on any suspect. no suspect, pitch black. The state presented no evidence that the suspect shooter had run out of bullets or had attempted to engage the weapon and it wouldn’t engage.
“… If the suspect had intended to kill police officers, he had multiple opportunities to do so. He had the cover of darkness, a still-loaded weapon and defenseless officers for a period of minutes.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.