Fatal blow similar to teen crime
Prosecutors plan to use an accused killer's previous assault conviction as a juvenile as evidence of his "reckless state of mind."
Less Allen Schnabel Jr., 22, has been charged with manslaughter for fatally punching 34-year-old Christopher Reuther one year ago today, but as a teenager he was convicted of a similar crime that nearly killed another man.
Reuther was visiting Honolulu to consider attending law school at the University of Hawaii. On April 22 last year, Reuther was at Zablan Beach Park taking photographs when Schnabel allegedly false-cracked him, causing bleeding at the base of his brain.
When he was 17, Schnabel was convicted of first-degree assault in a similar incident at Nanakuli Beach Park after catching another man off guard with a punch, according to court documents.
On Sept. 1, 2002, the victim and Schnabel were at a birthday party with about 50 other people. A fight was about to begin, and the victim decided to leave before trouble started.
The victim went around shaking hands with various people "to be cool with everyone," including Schnabel, court documents state. When he shook Schnabel's hand, he was punched in the left side of his face, fell down and was kicked in the face by Schnabel several times.
The victim suffered a fractured orbital socket and backward displacement of his left eye. Medical officials said at the time that the victim nearly died and almost suffered a subdural hematoma, a traumatic brain injury.
The case went to Family Court, where Schnabel was convicted of first-degree assault. Prosecutors in the case hope to use the juvenile case as evidence of Schnabel's "reckless state of mind."
Schnabel has been free after posting a reduced bail of $50,000. He has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and unauthorized entry into a motor vehicle, for allegedly taking Reuther's camera from his car.
His jury trial is scheduled for June 23. Reuther's 68-year-old mother, Judy Wilson, is hoping to attend the trial but might not because of serious health issues.
"This has been the most awful year I can possibly imagine," said Wilson from her North Carolina home. "I cry every day. I never stop missing him."
Reuther's family believes he was camping on the Leeward Coast to soak in the local culture, since he was considering going to school in Hawaii. He was an environmentalist and photojournalist.
Reuther was taking photos when he was allegedly punched by Schnabel without provocation. He was removed from life support on April 26. Reuther is survived by his mother, father Philip Reuther and sister Heather Litton.
In Wilson's home there are reminders of her son everywhere -- flowers he gave to her last year that have begun to bloom, kitchen supplies, photographs of him and by him, and his ashes resting in his bedroom.
"You can't erase the memories away," she said. "If I got rid of every single thing in the house he gave me, I'd still think about him all the time."
Every holiday has been difficult without her son, and she said this week will be particularly troubling for her, especially knowing that Schnabel is free on bail and facing a charge other than murder.
"Total strangers always took to him instantly. Less was the only person in his life that probably didn't like him," Wilson said. "I think his bail should've been much higher. Around here, people get longer prison sentences for much less of a crime than that. I just don't understand."