Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Hate crime case ends
with man’s guilty plea


Henry "Puka" Bell: He was charged with 13 crimes in connection with an attack on campers

KEALAKEKUA, Hawaii » A hate crime accusation against a Kona man has been dropped in exchange for a guilty plea to six lesser charges related to a nighttime attack last year.

Henry "Puka" Bell had been charged with 13 crimes in connection with an attack by several people on a group of campers at Makalawena Beach, North Kona, on July 10.

Police estimated that up to 50 people were involved in the incident just before midnight, in which attackers drove vehicles through campsites, smashed vehicles and attacked people.

Those involved in the attack were generally identified as "local," while the victims were identified as Caucasian.

But Bell's attorney Robert Kim said one of the suspects charged in the attack is Caucasian, and none of those involved claimed that Bell made racial statements.

Of 11 people who allegedly participated in the attack, Bell received the most attention because he had the greatest number of charges against him. Some of those charges could have resulted in 10 years in prison.

If he had been found guilty under the state's hate crime law, which considers racial hatred or similar factors, his sentence could have been doubled to 20 years.

In the agreement yesterday, Bell pleaded guilty to first-degree terroristic threatening, unauthorized entry into a motor vehicle, second-degree theft, second-degree property damage and rioting, a charge which involves disorderly conduct with five or more other people. All of the charges are punishable by up to five years in prison.

Bell also pleaded guilty to third-degree assault, a misdemeanor.

Kim said Bell could have pleaded no contest, but he pleaded guilty because he wants to take responsibility for his actions. He said Bell has no prior felony convictions, which makes him eligible for a deferred guilty plea.

In that case, Bell would get no more than one year in jail and five years' probation, and would have a clean record after that. Sentencing was set for Feb. 28.

Kim had filed court papers saying the hate crime law is too vague. That issue has now been dropped for Bell, but hate crime charges against other suspects in the case remain.

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