Big Island road death case grows complex
Evidence contradicts the murder charge after three months with no indictment
KEALAKEKUA, Hawaii » Big Island police officer Michael Molnar testified yesterday about scrape and crush marks on two vehicles involved in a July 15 crash in which two women were killed and a third was injured.
Molnar didn't testify how the marks were made, but their location, on the wrong sides of the vehicles, could raise doubt about a prosecution theory that defendant Vernon Costa deliberately forced the car with the three women off the road between Waimea and Kailua-Kona about midnight, killing two.
Costa, 41, is charged with first-degree murder involving two people, two separate counts of second-degree murder, attempted murder and related charges. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life without parole. He is being held in lieu of bail.
Yesterday's testimony was the third day of a preliminary hearing for Costa. Previous portions were held in July and August, and -- not concluding yesterday -- a fourth day was set by District Judge Joseph Florendo for Dec. 8.
Dragging a preliminary hearing out over several months is unusual. A prosecutor would normally cut the process short by obtaining an indictment from a grand jury.
Both Deputy Prosecutor Kimberly Taniyama and defense attorney Robert Kim declined to comment on why there was no indictment.
Molnar testified that the truck believed driven by Costa had swipe marks on the driver's side. Although Molnar didn't say so, if Costa had smashed the women's car while chasing them at high speed, the marks would more likely have been on the passenger side.
Molnar also testified that the women's car, which was found off the highway upside-down, had crush marks on its passenger side. If Costa had sideswiped the women's car while passing on the narrow road, it would more probably have had marks on the driver's side.
Molnar said he was not assigned to inspect the women's car carefully.
In testimony in August, Gerald Yamasaki, who saw Costa after the crash, said Costa had told him the women had deliberately banged the borrowed truck he was driving.
The possibly confusing location of the marks on the two vehicles is one of a series of potential difficulties that Taniyama would have to explain to a jury.
In previous testimony, Janelle Nardin, the sole survivor among the three women, testified that she was under the influence of crystal methamphetamine at the time and couldn't remember the crash itself.
Nardin, then 19, was Costa's former girlfriend. The two women killed in the crash were Nardin's friends, Pua Santa Isabel, 26, and Casey Ann Swain, 35.
When Nardin testified in August, she was brought to court in handcuffs because she had been arrested for an unrelated offense following the crash.
Another difficulty developed yesterday when two witnesses subpoenaed by the prosecution failed to show up.
One was crash scene witness Konrad Ross, who was being held in the county jail in Hilo in an unrelated case. Guards at the Kona court told Judge Florendo they didn't know why Ross had not been brought from Hilo.
The other person who failed to appear was Weston Lindsey, owner of the truck Costa was driving. Florendo issued a warrant for his arrest for failing to appear.