Seferin Tilipau turns to look at relatives during his change of plea hearing on Wednesday in Hilo Circuit Court.
By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A 20-year-old Hawaiian Paradise Park man has pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a brutal attack on a neighbor during an October 2011 home invasion.
Seferin Tilipau pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges of first-degree burglary, first-degree assault, first-degree robbery and unauthorized entry to a motor vehicle. In exchange for his guilty plea, prosecutors dropped a charge of second-degree attempted murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence upon conviction.
Under terms of the plea deal, Tilipau faces at least 20 years in prison, and a possible 30-year prison term, when he is sentenced on April 5 at 9 a.m. before Hilo Circuit Judge Greg Nakamura.
Tilipau forced his way into the home of then-69-year-old Mary Davy on Oct. 22, 2011, punched her in the face and stabbed her numerous times with a pair of the woman’s gardening shears.
Tilipau, who is deaf, was assisted in court by two sign language interpreters, one for American Sign Language and another to translate to and from ASL in a sign language dialect understood by Tilipau.
“I didn’t mean to hurt her,” Tilipau said through interpreters in response to a question by the judge. “It was just an accident. I was careless.” In response to another question from Nakamura, Tilipau said he “didn’t know” that Davy’s injuries were serious.
Tilipau, who is in custody at Hawaii Community Correctional Center, stood for most of the hearing with his arms crossed on his chest. He occasionally looked toward several relatives in the courtroom and smiled.
Because Davy is over 60, Tilipau could have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted of the attempted murder charge. Davy, who did not attend the hearing, said afterwards that prosecutors felt DNA evidence against Tilipau wasn’t strong enough to guarantee a conviction by a jury on the attempted murder charge.
“Even though he had all of my blood over all of my clothes, he had since taken the clothes off when they arrested him,” Davy said Wednesday afternoon. “When they ran the DNA on the clothes, almost everybody in (Tilipau’s) home had worn those clothes.”
Davy said she wished Tilipau had been convicted “for what he tried to do,” but understands why the plea deal was made.
“He never really tried to rob me; he tried to kill me,” she said.
Davy, who has since returned to work at the Fireplace & Home Center, said she doesn’t “dwell on things, because that doesn’t help me.”
“I’m not better off and I’m not the same as I was,” she said.
The day after the attack, Davy’s daughter, Suzanne MacAdam, described what was done to her mother as “horrific.”
“He cut her face from the corner of the mouth, up to the jawbone, back by the corner of her gums,” she said. “… Her whole face was flayed open. It looked like a zombie movie, horrific.”
Prosecutors have said, and Davy affirmed, that Tilipau was intoxicated when the attack occurred.
“His body reeked of alcohol, not like the alcohol that somebody drank just now, but like the alcohol that’s been in your system for so long that it’s like your skin has that odor of it,” she said.
After the hearing, Tilipau’s cousin, Apolonia Tilipau, said that he had not had prior problems with alcohol or violence.
“Everyone was so surprised when that happened, because no one thought he would do anything like that,” she said.
Davy said she doesn’t want to see Tilipau back on the street but hopes “he’s OK.”
“I don’t know what kind of soul he is, but that has to be a dark, dark soul,” she said.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.