Monday | December 11, 2017
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Murder suspect brothers to stand trial separately

KEALAKEKUA — A circuit court judge denied the state’s request to consolidate the trials of two brothers facing murder and conspiracy charges.

Eber and Marlon Miranda-Garcia appeared in the Kona Circuit Court before Judge Harry P. Freitas on Wednesday. The men are charged in the murder of Dolores Borja-Valle, also known as Lolo, who was found dead in a Captain Cook coffee field on Aug. 9, 2015.

Deputy prosecutor Sheri Lawson started the hearing by calling Walter Ah Mow, lead detective in the case but since retired, to the stand. He rehashed details in his investigation.

Ah Mow said he was called to investigate the body found in the coffee field. He told the court that investigators were ultimately able to name the brothers as suspects through DNA evidence and phone records.

Tower dumps were conducted at the sites where Lolo’s body was found on Keopuka Mauka Road and where his truck was abandoned in Ocean View. Ah Mow told the court that Eber and Marlon Miranda-Garcia’s cellphones were pinging off those towers the night Lolo disappeared.

Ah Mow said the brothers were also in communication with their third brother, Himer, and Eber’s wife, Jessilyn Hoohuli.

In the initial investigation, Ah Mow testified, no one pointed at each other and they all gave a place where they were at the time of Lolo’s disappearance.

Eber and Marlon Miranda-Garcia were arrested June 26 at a worksite in Kawaihae. Hoohuli was also initially taken into custody and Himer Miranda-Garcia turned himself in.

Hoohuli was released pending the investigation and U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement took Himer Miranda-Garcia into custody.

Ah Mow testified that when he questioned Eber Miranda-Garcia about Lolo, the 27-year-old said he knew nothing about Lolo’s death.

“When I confronted him with evidence, he asked to speak with his wife,” Ah Mow said.

The detective said he granted the conversation between Eber Miranda-Garcia and Hoohuli, which was not recorded or taped.

Afterward, he gave a different statement.

Ah Mow testified that Eber Miranda-Garcia admitted to killing Lolo. He added that Eber Miranda-Garcia told him Lolo, who was his landlord at the time, threatened to take away his wife and kids and call immigration.

Eber Miranda-Garcia iterated he was the only one responsible in Lolo’s death, Ah Mow said.

“This case is based on scientific evidence and testimony,” Lawson said. “I am at a loss of what the mutual exclusive defenses would be that would rise to the level of prejudice.”

Eber Miranda-Garcia’s attorney, Terri Fujioka-Lilley, said there’s a fairly high risk of evidence that would be admissible. Statements could be admissible for or against Marlon Miranda-Garcia.

Wendy DeWeese, attorney for Marlon Miranda-Garcia, said consolidating the trials would be unfair to the defense.

DeWeese said it’s clear that Eber Miranda-Garcia is the center of the case.

“The weight of evidence is clearly against Eber Miranda-Garcia,” she said. “For my client, they just have cellphone data.”

Lawson rebutted. She said there’s no reconcilable defense at this point and there is a conspiracy charge.

“If you look at the statement Eber gave, it doesn’t hurt Marlon at all,” Lawson said. “Even if there was a statement that came in, I don’t think it would be prejudicial against Marlon.”

Lawson added the evidence would be the same in both trials.

After hearing the arguments, Freitas denied the state’s request for consolidation.

“This is a serious crime,” Freitas said. “I’m not inclined to limit the defense’s ability to defend their clients as vigorously as possible.”

Later Wednesday afternoon, Freitas heard a motion to determine the voluntariness of statements in the Eber Miranda-Garcia case.

Ah Mow was brought back to the stand. He testified that on June 27 he read Eber Miranda-Garcia his rights. Lawson also showed video footage of the incident.

In the video, Ah Mow is heard reading Eber Miranda-Garcia his rights. Afterward, the former detective asked if he understood what was read to him and to initial it on the form.

“Before I fill this out, I need to know, do you have evidence against me?” Eber Miranda-Garcia asked through an interpreter.

Ah Mow repeated the question. At that point, he said yes.

In the video, Ah Mow also asks Eber Miranda-Garcia if he wanted an attorney.

He responded through an interpreter: “Why would I ask for an attorney if I haven’t done anything? I’m clean.”

Eber Miranda-Garcia checked the “no” box on the form.

The 27-year-old also said “yes” to providing a statement to police.

After a recess, Freitas said his inclination was for counsels to provide written arguments regarding the motion.

“Counsels, be very specific on the statements I’m to determine voluntariness on,” he said.

The written arguments are due back Nov. 15.

The judge also granted a continuance on Eber Miranda-Garcia’s trial as the defense retains DNA and phone experts to review the evidence.

The trial is now scheduled for May 8.

 

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