CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Gerald Paakaula, left, arrived at Circuit Court yesterday with his wife, Joreen. He admitted his guilt in a February beating.
Beating case plea deal satisfies all
Prison time is likely for a man involved in the Waikele assault of a military couple
A plea agreement that averted a trial in the widely publicized Waikele beating of a military couple in February was in the best interests of all concerned, the parties say.
Gerald D. Paakaula, 44, of Waianae pleaded guilty yesterday in Circuit Court to recklessly causing bodily injury to Dawn Dussell and causing serious bodily injury to her husband, Staff Sgt. Andrew Dussell, by punching him in the head. The trial had been set for Monday.
"With his acceptance of responsibility today, it brings closure to this case, and that's what Gerald wanted," said defense attorney Todd Eddins.
Paakaula accepted the plea agreement to avoid having to put his family and the Dussells through a trial, said Eddins, who described his client as a "humble, hard-working, shirt-off-his-back" guy. Under the plea agreement, Paakaula pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and a reduced charge of third-degree assault, a misdemeanor.
The state carefully considered the evidence it could present at trial, conflicting witness statements and the victims' concerns in making the agreement, said Deputy Prosecutor Franklin Pacarro. "We believe the resolution is in the interest of the people of the state of Hawaii."
The Dussells endorsed the decision, Pacarro said.
In a written statement, Sgt. Dussell said he was pleased with the outcome of the case and thanked the Hawaii justice system, for bringing a speedy end to the case, and everyone who has supported them.
"This has been a very emotional experience for my family and I," he wrote. "I wish to say that I know this incident is the result of a few individuals and is not indicative of the good people of Hawaii."
According to witnesses, the Dussells were pulling into a parking space at Waikele Center when their Dodge Durango struck the Paakaulas' Chevy in an adjacent stall.
Paakaula's 16-year-old son, Alika, got out and began screaming at Dussell, 26, who was driving, calling him a "f---- haole."
From the beginning, prosecutors did not characterize the case as a hate crime because the fender bender was what precipitated the violence, not the racial slurs. But Dussell's wife, Dawn, objected to the way the teen was addressing her husband and, according to witnesses, got out and tried to push the teen away from her husband, who remained seated in the car, prosecutors said.
The teenage Paakaula is 6 feet tall and weighs about 200 pounds. Dawn Dussell is 5-foot-3, 125 pounds.
The defense maintains that Dawn Dussell provoked the confrontation. "We're not excusing what later transpired," Eddins said, contending that the incident escalated through the actions of both the Paakaulas and the Dussells.
In her written statement, Gerald Paakaula's wife, Joreen, said that after she inspected her car and noted a long scratch, she tried to calm down her son, telling him the damage was not bad. But her son continued yelling at the driver, and that was when Dawn Dussell yelled out, "Don't talk to my husband like that," and exited the SUV.
Paakaula told police Dussell "punched" her son and would have punched him a second time had she not grabbed Dussell's hair.
Paakaula, who is 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighs more than 240 pounds, said Dussell then punched her in the jaw, causing her to fall back with Dussell's hair stuck in her nail.
She said as they wrestled on the ground, she heard her husband come out of Baskin-Robbins saying, "What the hell is going on?"
Paakaula said her husband "hit and shoved" Dawn Dussell to the side and then "punched the driver of the Durango," Sgt. Dussell, who was walking toward them.
The defense said Gerald Paakaula's reaction when he came upon the scene was to protect his family. "He hit each victim only once and was unable to harness his emotions. He should have handled things in a different way," Eddins said.
The defense disputes three witness reports that Paakaula slammed or threw Dawn Dussell to the ground.
Witness Veronica Fajardo, who parked her car one stall over from the Dussells, said Dawn Dussell landed under her parked Toyota and "lost consciousness for about 10 seconds or so."
Sgt. Dussell went down after he was hit, and witnesses said the Paakaulas' son kicked him as he lay on the pavement. Dussell began bleeding at the mouth and aspirating blood with each breath. Soon he began having a seizure. Paramedics arrived to find bystanders trying to assist him.
After the couple was examined at the hospital, doctors concluded that Dussell suffered a fractured eye socket and concussion. He also lost a front tooth from being kicked.
Circuit Judge Steve Alms said he was inclined to accept the plea agreement when Paakaula is sentenced Dec. 2. He faces a maximum five years in prison. Paakaula also was ordered to write a letter of apology to the Dussells.
The state is expected to ask the Hawaii Paroling Authority to order that Paakaula serve at least two years before he can be considered for release.
Because of his age, Alika Paakaula, the teen, was prosecuted in private proceedings in Family Court.