By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A judge has denied a defense request to disqualify herself from hearing the case of a Hilo man accused of the shotgun slaying of his girlfriend and her mother in their Waiakea Houselots home.
On Tuesday, Deputy Public Defender Michael Ebesugawa asked that Hilo District Judge Barbara Takase step down in the case of 34-year-old Sean Ivan Masa Matsumoto, whose charged with first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder, first-degree reckless endangering, and three counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a separate felony. Court documents filed by police state that Matsumoto called 911 after 11 p.m. on the night of Feb. 11 “to report that he just shot two people in his residence.”
Responding officers discovered the bodies of Matsumoto’s 45-year-old girlfriend, Rhonda Lynn Alohalani Ahu, and her mother, 74-year-old Elaine Ahu, “with what appeared to be gunshot wounds to both their heads and faces,” documents state. Police found a .12-gauge shotgun at the Leilani Street home, according to documents.
Matsumoto was scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Tuesday, but at the start of proceedings, Ebesugawa said he was “informed and believe that the court may have a connection in this case” and “that it may be unwise for the court to sit in this preliminary hearing.”
“Specifically, I’m informed and believe the court may have employed one of the decedents in this case, Rhonda Lynn Ahu, as a housekeeper in the past. … I cannot put a date on when this occurred. However, I’m informed and believe that it occurred while the court’s children were young. It appears that this was not a one-time matter, but a continuing one,” Ebesugawa told the judge.
“Based on that, I’m informed and believe that Mr. Matsumoto is concerned about that connection, given the gravity of the case, the severity of the charges against Mr. Matsumoto. And if correct, that there would be an appearance of a conflict. We’re asking the court to recuse itself from sitting in this case.”
The judge denied both Ebesugawa’s statement and his request.
“The court has never had a regular housekeeper, and I don’t know, I don’t have any personal knowledge, I don’t know Rhonda Ahu,” Takase replied. “… I’ve never employed a housekeeper perhaps except one time when I was moving out of a house. … So I’m not going to disqualify myself.”
The judge did, however, grant Ebesugawa’s request to postpone the preliminary hearing, re-scheduling it for March 7 at 2 p.m., so Ebesugawa could examine evidence the prosecution handed him earlier on Tuesday.
Matsumoto is in custody without bail at Hawaii Community Correctional Center.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.