By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Both sides presented closing arguments in the attempted murder trial of Robert Diego on Monday with the prosecution telling the jury that the former mortician attempted to rob and kill Hilo coin dealer Donald Nigro, while the defense attorney called Nigro a murderer and liar.
The 70-year-old Diego is accused of beating the 67-year-old Nigro with a hammer on June 13, 2011, at Nigro’s Hualalai street apartment. Nigro was hospitalized for three days with a skull fracture and other injuries.
Deputy Prosecutor Darien Nagata called Diego’s testimony that Nigro tried to swindle him out of some valuable Hawaiian coins, then groped Diego’s privates and attempted to perform a sex act on him “an outrageous story.”
“For the defendant, it was all about money,” Nagata said. “Remember what the defendant said at the end of … direct examination of him. ‘I’m sorry for what happened. It still bothers me. If he just gave me the money, this would not have happened.’ The defendant did not say this would not have happened if he had not grabbed my crotch. … The defendant didn’t say this because it didn’t happen. There were no threats of sexual penetration by compulsion.”
Nagata said the “evidence proves that the defendant was the only aggressor on June 13, 2011.”
“Look at the defendant’s actions. He was carrying a hammer. There was no logical reason he was carrying a heavy hammer with him,” she said. “Even when the defendant is caught literally red-handed with Mr. Nigro’s blood on his hands, the defendant tries to wash his hands.
“… This is not a case of self-defense. The defendant concocted this story to claim self-defense. The defendant tried to kill Mr. Nigro. The defendant said he was about four feet from the door. The door was unlocked.”
Diego’s court-appointed attorney, William Heflin, referred to Nigro’s murder conviction for a 1971 slaying and said the state “didn’t come close” to proving its case against his client.
“Only two people were in that room; only two people know what happened,” Heflin said. “One of them is my client, Robert Diego, who has no history of violence — no history of violence. And the other person was Donald Nigro. … He took the stand. He admitted that he killed Kenneth Visnich. … Donald Nigro’s a murderer.
“If there’s gonna be a first aggressor in this case, is it gonna be a murderer or is it gonna be a guy with no documented history of violence?”
Heflin said that Nigro lied about never having seen the Hawaiian coins that Diego had offered to sell, producing a list of the coins on which Nigro had written down grades and saying that Nigro couldn’t have graded the coins if he hadn’t seen them. He also produced a document allowing police to search Nigro’s apartment on which Nigro had written that police were only allowed to search the front room of the apartment and not the bedroom, which was behind a locked security door.
“Donald Nigro said he kept his valuables in his bedroom. Did he have Mr. Diego’s coins in his bedroom? We’ll never know. The police didn’t search it,” he said. Diego had previously testified that he loaned Nigro the coins to have them appraised, but didn’t ask Nigro for a receipt because he trusted him.
Heflin told the jury his client was “stunned” when Diego groped his crotch.
“He said he was so shocked he defecated himself,” Heflin said. Heflin said Diego “thought he was going to die” and “thought he was going to be raped” and that’s why he grabbed the hammer he had in a green cloth grocery bag he was carrying it and hit Nigro several times on the head.
“It’s certain Robert Diego used force to protect himself from sexual molestation. There’s no denying it,” Heflin said. “… We know Donald Nigro is a liar. We know he’s killed before.”
The prosecution will have a chance for rebuttal on Wednesday in Hilo Circuit Court before the case goes to the jury for deliberations. If convicted of attempted second-degree murder, Diego faces a life sentence with the possibility of parole.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.