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Friday, January 9, 2004



THE PALI GOLF COURSE SHOOTINGS

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DEAN SENSUI / DSENSUI@STARBULLETIN.COM
Shattered glass from a bullet impact was one of the few remaining traces today from yesterday's shooting at the Pali Golf Course.



Gambling turf war
emerges as factor

Wednesday's incident could be
the latest act in a security dispute


The fatal shooting of two men Wednesday at Pali Golf Course was the result of a turf war between two factions vying to provide "protection" at Honolulu's underground gambling clubs, according to sources close to the investigation.

Sources said yesterday that the shooting was just one of several violent confrontations between the two sides, including an assault case on July 30 at a Young Street gambling house. In that case two men were charged with beating two security guards by hitting them with bats and chairs and stabbing one of them multiple times. The two suspects were later joined by a group of about 20 men who ransacked the game room.

Officially, Honolulu police said they were still investigating a motive for the golf course shootings and could not confirm whether gambling was involved.



The suspects

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Ethan Motta:
Age: 34
From: Hilo
Background: Charged last year
with gambling
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Rodney V. Joseph:
Age: 35
From: Waianae
Background: Pro kickboxer

The victims

KILLED

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Lepo Taliese:
Age: 44
From: Oahu
Background: Murder
conviction commuted

Lawrence Corpuz, a k a Romilius Corpuz


CRITICALLY WOUNDED

Tino Sao, Taliese's brother



The two men killed were identified as Lepo Utu Taliese and Lawrence Corpuz, a k a Romilius Corpuz. A third man, Taliese's brother Tino Sao, was wounded and in critical condition at the Queen's Medical Center on the day of the shooting. However, no updated information about him is being released by hospital officials.

The shootings occurred in the parking lot fronting the clubhouse just before 1:15 p.m., according to police. An estimated 13 to 18 rounds were fired from two weapons, a .22 caliber and a .380 caliber, said Homicide Lt. Bill Kato. No weapons were recovered from the scene.

Les Miwa, manager of the Pro Am Golf Shop at the course, said he was standing behind the counter when he looked through the shop's large glass windows and saw one of the shooters.

"I saw him raise his arm, and he started shooting," Miwa said. "He was real cool. He was slow, aiming carefully. ... After the second shot, I went for the phone and called 911."

The shop's windows had two bullet holes and bloodstains.

Police arrested three men shortly after the shootings. They are Ethan Motta, Rodney V. Joseph and Nixon Maumalanga. Police said they believe Motta is one of the shooters, but would not identify who fired the second gun.

Police said both groups of men knew each other, had attended a funeral at Hawaiian Memorial Park earlier that day and had agreed to meet in the course's parking lot later. The funeral was for Raymond Gomes Sr., 70, of Kailua.

Kimberlee Sang, Gomes' daughter, said she saw the victims and suspects at the funeral, and they did not appear to be arguing. She said the men were acquaintances of her brother, Raymond Jr., who could not be reached for comment.

Most of the victims and suspects involved have well-documented criminal careers but no shortage of supporters from their communities.

In 1982, Taliese was sentenced to a mandatory life term without parole for the murder of fellow inmate Milton Nihipali. But in 1995, Taliese's sentence was commuted by then-Gov. John Waihee.

His attorney, Chester Kanai, said in an interview in 2000 that the evidence showed that Taliese was not in the area when fellow inmate Nihipali was beaten to death. "It wasn't a question of 'They were guilty' and 'Please grant us clemency or mercy,'" Kanai said. "It was, 'We've got to do something because they're not guilty.'"

In 1984, Corpuz was sentenced to six years in prison for first- and second-degree robbery. And in 1993, Sao was sentenced to a maximum 10 years in prison for first-degree negligent homicide after driving drunk and killing one of his passengers in a collision.

Joseph, a professional kickboxer who debuted last April in his first professional boxing match, has 12 prior felony convictions, two for burglary and 10 for terroristic threatening. Former coach Bruce Kawano said Joseph is a "good athlete and a hard worker" and is "well known and well respected in Waianae."

Kawano said, "I was shocked when I heard he was involved, because when there are problems with two groups of people, he would be the middle person who makes peace."

"If one bunch of people want to fight with another, they called him and he solved the problem," Kawano said.

Motta has one misdemeanor conviction for reckless driving. But Big Island court records show that Motta was charged with two gambling offenses in 1998 in connection with some craps games two years prior, during which some of the bets went as high as $10,000. The case was dismissed the following year because certain evidence was not permitted in court.

In 2002, Motta was indicted for 10 alleged instances of gambling in November and December 2000. The 10 gambling charges against him eventually were dropped when a judge determined that the indictment against him was based on "prejudicial testimony."

Yesterday, Hawaii County Councilman Aaron Chung said in response to the shootings: "I'll maintain, based on my dealings with him, he's a very nice guy and he's a friend. I'm praying for him."

Maumalanga has two minor traffic convictions, and police said he might have been a getaway driver for the suspects. However, his Papakolea neighbors say Maumalanga is a good, churchgoing family man, married with four children.

"He one nice guy," said neighbor Mark Ahea. "He no do that kind stuff."

Bishop Charles Alombro, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said Maumalanga is a member and attends services at the chapel at 1931 Lusitana St.

"I'm surprised," Alombro said when he learned Maumalanga was arrested. He would not have expected it of him.

Alombro said Maumalanga has worked in construction and landscaping.

"He's trying his best to work for his family," Alombro said. "He's a good worker. ... He's a good dad."

As of last night, police were still looking for one more suspect. Police were looking for a new, black Ford Taurus that they believe may have been used as a getaway car for the suspects.

Kato said the vehicle has temporary plates and could be a 2003 or 2004 model.

Anyone with information on the case is asked to call HPD's Criminal Investigation Division at 529-3115.


Star-Bulletin reporters Sally Apgar, Rod Thompson, Gregg Kakesako and Leila Fujimori contributed to this report.

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