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Wednesday, February 23, 2000

Judge denies Habilitat
for suitcase thief

By Debra Barayuga


A man convicted of stealing a suitcase from a Chicago policeman who was brutally beaten on the North Shore in 1996 was denied a reduction of his sentence yesterday.

Circuit Judge Sandra Simms denied Rodney Balbirona's request yesterday to reconsider her November 1999 decision revoking his probation after he failed numerous times to comply with court orders and sentencing him to up to five years in prison.

Simms said while she didn't like being in a position of throwing away the key, she believed that incarceration is part of his rehabilitation.

Balbirona's attorney, Keith Shigetomi, had asked that his client be placed on probation on condition that he enter the Habilitat residential drug-treatment center, which recently accepted him.

Habilitat can provide the strict monitoring and structure that his client desperately needs, Shigetomi said.

"It gives Rodney his best chance for success and best chance for failure because we will know as soon as it happens," he said.

Balbirona's second-degree theft conviction is his first as an adult and he didn't have a history as a juvenile, Shigetomi said.

Balbirona, 22, told the court yesterday he has a drug problem that needs to be addressed. Completing the Habilitat program, would make him a better person and help better his life, he said, adding, "I don't feel doing time will help me solve this problem."

Deputy Prosecutor Maurice Arrisgado opposed the request, saying the defense has presented no evidence to show that the court's decision in November was inappropriate.

There's no question Balbirona needs structure and supervision, Arrisgado said. "That's what he's getting today in prison."

The Hawaii Paroling Authority is expected to issue a decision in a few weeks on the minimum term Balbirona will be required to serve before being eligible for parole.

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