By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A coin dealer who survived a brutal hammer attack almost two years ago said he’d have gone “on top of Mauna Kea” to buy the rare Hawaiian coins he believed the man accused of assaulting him possessed.
“That’s how bad I wanted to do the deal,” Donald Nigro said Wednesday on the witness stand in the trial of 70-year-old former mortician Robert Diego, who’s charged with attempted murder, first-degree robbery and first-degree assault for the June 13, 2011, attack, which occurred in Nigro’s downtown Hilo apartment.
The 67-year-old Nigro testified that he’d left his store, Antiques & Coins on Kilauea Avenue, that morning after Diego had called him and asked him to meet him in a half-hour in front of Lanky’s Pastries in the Hilo Shopping Center. Nigro said he drove to the Bank of Hawaii branch next to the downtown Hilo Longs Drugs to get an $18,000 cashier’s check and $1,000 in cash, picked up Diego in front of the bakery, and then drove back to the Hualalai Street apartment.
He said that in addition to the cash and the cashier’s check, he was wearing a fanny pack that contained jewelry that Diego had shown interest in.
Asked by Deputy Prosecutor Darien Nagata why he agreed to do the business transaction in his home rather than at his store, Nigro replied: “He said he wanted to do the deal where I lived. I’d assumed he wanted privacy because it’d take quite a while to examine the coins if and when he brought them.”
Nigro said he had never seen the actual coins, just a handwritten list that Diego had given him. He said it was an impressive list, and had he acquired the coins, which included several rare Hawaiian nickels, it would be “quite a feather in my cap.” He added that coin collecting is a competitive business and he was worried that Diego would sell them to someone else.
Nigro said that Diego was carrying “one of those cloth grocery bags that they’re trying to get us to use, in several shades of green.” He said he saw what looked like a box inside the shopping bag.
“What did you believe was inside the box?” Nagata asked.
“I was hoping it was the coins,” Nigro replied.
Diego is expected to testify during the defense phase of the trial that he hit Nigro with the hammer in self-defense after Nigro grabbed Diego’s crotch and pushed him.
Nigro’s testimony continues at 8:30 a.m. today in Hilo Circuit Court.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.