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2 stand trial in Pali shootings


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POSTED: Thursday, February 05, 2009

Five years after two men were killed and a third critically injured in a brazen midday shooting at Pali Golf Course, trial for the accused killers got under way yesterday in federal court.

  ""  Rodney Joseph Jr. and Ethan "Malu" Motta are standing trial in the Jan. 7, 2004, murders of Romelius Corpuz Jr. and Lepo Taliese and the attempted murder of Tinoimalu Sao. The mandatory minimum punishment for murder under federal law is life in prison. There is no opportunity for parole from federal prison.

Joseph and Motta are also charged with conspiring to operate and operating an illegal gambling business and racketeering, which involved assault with a dangerous weapon, extortion and robbery.

Another man charged in the slayings, Kevin A. Gonsalves, pleaded guilty to racketeering last year and is serving a 330-month prison term.

Many of the details of the government's case against Joseph and Motta have already surfaced in the indictments, the plea agreements that U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway rejected and the one for Gonsalves that she accepted.

A large part of the delay in bringing the men to trial occurred when the federal government took over the prosecution from the state. And on the eve of trial last February, Joseph, Motta and Gonsalves pleaded guilty to the murders in a deal with the federal prosecutor, which Mollway later rejected.

In opening statements to the jury yesterday, the lawyers for Joseph, Motta and the government painted a picture of a violent struggle among at least four groups vying to provide protection for illegal gambling operations on Oahu. Joseph, Motta and Gonsalves belonged to one group; the shooting victims belonged to another.

To settle the dispute between the two groups, Motta arranged a meeting at the golf course, said Thomas Brady, assistant U.S. attorney. When Corpuz, Taliese and Sao showed up at the meeting unarmed, instead of talking, Motta shot Sao in the face.

With Joseph and Gonsalves, Motta then chased Corpuz and Taliese, firing shots from handguns, Brady said.

Honolulu police officer Christopher Wong said when he got to the golf course, Taliese was lying on the grass but still alive. He said Taliese told him he had been shot in the back five times. And when he asked Taliese whether he knew who shot him, "He said Rodney Joseph and Malu Motta," Wong said.

Joseph's lawyer, Reginald Minn, told the jurors none of the government's witnesses saw Joseph shoot at anybody. And after Joseph turned himself in later that day, police were unable to find any gunshot residue on him, Minn said.

Motta's lawyer, Charles Carnesi, said Taliese went to Pali Golf Course to get rid of the Joseph group, not vice versa, as the government claims.