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Wednesday, April 12, 2000

‘No quality of
life left’ for
attack victim

Loto Satele, 19, escapes an
attempted-murder charge in
the beating and robbery
of James Uyeno, 70

By Debra Barayuga


If he had not been attacked, James Uyeno might still be feeding stray kittens in the parking lot of Times supermarket in Waipahu, getting his early morning exercise, then heading over to talk story and drink coffee with his retired buddies at 7-Eleven Waipahu.

Instead, the 70-year-old sits in a wheelchair at Leahi Hospital -- a vacant look on his face, barely able to recognize family members who visit several times a week.

The retired truck driver and state custodian who enjoyed crabbing was attacked and robbed by at least two men on bikes in the early morning hours of Feb. 13, 1999.

They allegedly knocked him down in the parking lot of Times, stole his money and later drove off in his pickup to Ewa Beach where they were caught on camera holding up the owner of a convenience store.

Yesterday, Judge Wilfred Watanabe found there was not enough evidence to show that Loto Satele, 19, the only person charged in Uyeno's beating and robbery, intended to kill Uyeno. Instead, in a nonjury trial Watanabe found Satele guilty of the lesser charge of first-degree assault, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. He also faces 20 years for robbery and five years for auto theft when sentenced Nov. 8.

Had he been convicted of attempted second-degree murder, Satele would have faced a life term with the possibility of parole. Uyeno's family could not be reached for comment on the verdict.

The state contended the attack on Uyeno was no accident. "These people were out on the prowl looking for someone to (hi)jack," said Deputy Prosecutor Maurice Arrisgado.

They knocked Uyeno down, causing him to go into seizures and returned 15 minutes later to steal Uyeno's truck, leaving him lying on the ground. "They didn't have the common decency to call for help," Arrisgado said.

Uyeno, with his baseball cap and cigar, was a familiar fixture to the early morning shift of Times employees who considered him the unofficial night watchman. "He always said hello," said Gayle Kam, store manager.

"He gave you a feeling of community, of being there watching over everyone. He made everybody feel safe."

Uyeno suffered numerous fractures to the left, right and back of the head in the attack.

The defense claimed the boys were cruising on their bikes near Times when they heard someone yelling at them to get out of there. Satele said the person sounded like a punk and that he went up to confront him. He said he punched Uyeno only once, causing him to fall to the ground, but didn't intend to kill him.

Then-Deputy Public Defender William Domingo said while Uyeno suffered two violent seizures, he could have sustained the head injuries as he convulsed on the ground. He disagreed with the state's contention that Satele used a blunt object to beat Uyeno on the head.

Satele had claimed they left Uyeno and returned about 15 minutes later after realizing the man's truck had been left running and decided to go for a joy ride. Uyeno was still lying on the ground and appearing to be sleeping and snoring, he testified.

A doctor who testified for the state said Uyeno's injuries could not have been caused by a punch in the jaw as Satele claimed.

Uyeno would have died from the head injuries but for a bitter fluke: There was room in his skull for his brain to expand, Arrisgado said.

Before the attack, Uyeno lived on his own in Waipahu. Today, Uyeno cannot tell you where he is or who he is. He needs round-the-clock skilled nursing care, Arrisgado said. "He's got no quality of life left."

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