Defense denies gambling ring drove Pali Golf Course shootings


POSTED: Thursday, March 12, 2009

Accused Pali Golf Course killers Rodney Joseph Jr. and Ethan Motta are not guilty of racketeering because they were not involved in a criminal enterprise, their lawyers told jurors in closing arguments yesterday in the two men's federal trial.

But the government says Joseph and Motta gunned down Romelius Corpuz Jr. and Lepo Taliese and critically injured Tinoimalu Sao on Jan. 7, 2004, to take back control of illegal gambling on Oahu.

“;This case is about greed, control and violence,”; said federal prosecutor Thomas Brady. “;Joseph and Motta were in it to win.”;

The charges against Joseph and Motta include racketeering involving illegal gambling, extortion conspiracy and robbery, operating an illegal gambling business and murder and attempted murder in aid of racketeering.

Brady said several witnesses testified during the five-week trial that Joseph and Motta provided protection for illegal game rooms, fended off other factions vying for control and shut down rival game rooms.

Motta's lawyer, Charles Carnesi, said the witnesses lied to minimize their own involvement in the violent struggle for control of the game rooms or to get breaks from the government for committing other crimes. He said the government produced no credible witnesses linking Motta with any of the requisite acts that it says were part of a criminal enterprise.

“;There was no enterprise,”; Carnesi said.

U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway had earlier instructed the jurors that in order to find Joseph and Motta guilty of racketeering, the government must prove that there was a criminal enterprise and that the two men were involved in the enterprise by committing at least two criminal acts to support it.

And if there was no enterprise, Motta did not participate in the Pali Golf Course shooting to further his position in the enterprise, Carnesi said. Motta had testified that he fired at Sao and Taliese in self-defense.

Joseph's lawyer, Reginald Minn, conceded that his client did rob and eventually shut down an illegal Pearl City game room. But he said Joseph did so to enrich himself, not at the urging of the operator of a rival game room.

He said Joseph and others were the “;muscle”; who tried to collect protection money from people operating the various game rooms on Oahu.

He said the government did not provide any witnesses who said they saw Joseph fire a gun at anybody at Pali Golf Course.

A government witness testified bullets from three different weapons killed Corpuz and Taliese — the .22-caliber handgun Motta said Joseph provided him and two .38-caliber weapons.

Minn said former co-defendant Kevin A. Gonsalves must have fired the other weapons. “;He had to have two guns.”;

Gonsalves is serving a 27 1/2 -year prison term in connection with the golf course shooting.