Jury not told of witness threats


POSTED: Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Golfers who witnessed fatal shootings at the Pali Golf Course on Jan. 7, 2004, did not want to talk to police about what they saw because their lives were threatened, Thomas Brady, assistant U.S. attorney, said yesterday.

In addition to threats against anybody who testified, there were bomb threats made on the Pali Golf Course office, said Brady, prosecutor in the murder and racketeering trial of Rodney Joseph Jr. and Ethan Motta. He did not say who made the threats.

Joseph and Motta are on trial for allegedly fatally shooting Romelius Corpuz Jr. and Lepo Taliese at the golf course five years ago and critically injuring Tinoimalu Sao in what the government said was a violent struggle among competing factions for control of illegal gambling operations on Oahu.

Brady made the comments during a discussion outside the presence of the jury in a request to U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway to allow him to tell jurors about a statement Joseph gave police a day after the shootings. Mollway had earlier ruled the statement, in which Joseph admitted his participation in the shootings, is inadmissible because Joseph gave the statement based on faulty advice from his previous lawyer.

Mollway did not allow Brady to mention Joseph's statement or the threats to the jurors.

Kathleen Osmond, who was the Honolulu Police Department's lead detective on the case, testified that the witnesses did not respond to numerous telephone messages and letters requesting interviews.

Mollway did allow Brady to ask Osmond whether she had other information about the shooting about which she had not testified and whether she felt the witnesses were reluctant to speak to police. Osmond answered yes to both questions without further elaboration.

Motta's lawyer hinted Motta may take the stand in his defense. Charles Carnesi asked Mollway to accept a report from an expert witness that suggests Corpuz and Taliese, who were shot in the back, could have been facing their assailants when the shooters decided to pull the trigger.

Mollway said she cannot see how Motta can use the report without claiming he shot in self-defense. To do so, he will have to take the stand, she said.