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Friday, July 7, 2000

Jury finds robber
not guilty of attempted
first degree murder

By Debra Barayuga


A Kahuku man was spared life imprisonment when a jury acquitted him of first-degree attempted murder for attempting to kill a Wahiawa couple during a botched robbery.

Tomas Quirantes, 21, instead was convicted of lesser charges of attempted first-degree assault and second-degree assault, punishable by up to 10 years and five years imprisonment, respectively.

He also was found guilty as charged with first-degree robbery, which carries penalties of up to 20 years in prison, and a firearms offense.

Deputy Prosecutor Martin Romualdez said he is disappointed in the verdict, which he felt did not reflect Quirantes' actions and intent on Jan. 8, 1999.

He said he will seek the maximum term possible when Quirantes is sentenced Aug. 30. The state can seek enhanced sentencing based on Quirantes' repeat felony convictions or seek consecutive sentences on each of the four counts that could add up to a life term.

Deputy public defender Ed Harada said his client is extremely grateful to the jury for their verdict. Quirantes knew he faced a serious risk of having to spend the rest of his life behind bars had he been convicted as charged.

Quirantes was accused of shooting Pok Cha Fithian in the face and attempting to shoot her husband, Paul, owner of a Wahiawa convenience store during a botched robbery.

The state had argued that Quirantes intended to kill Pok Cha Fithian and would have shot her husband, Paul, had the gun not jammed. Also, on the way to the store, Quirantes had told three other alleged accomplices that if anything went bad, he would kill all the witnesses.

Romualdez said this was a difficult case for the jury, particularly when presented with inconsistent testimonies by the couple. Anyone who goes through a traumatic event such as the Fithians faced will have different perspectives, Romualdez said. But he believed that both were truthful on the stand.

Quirantes, from the beginning, knew he was going to jail for a long time but wanted his day in court to explain that he had no intention of killing anyone that day, Harada said. Quirantes testified he had kept the gun pointed downward as he wrestled with Paul Fithian over control of the gun because "I no like nobody get shot. I no like myself get shot."

Quirantes said the gun went off accidentally as they struggled, hitting Pok Cha Fithian, but he only pulled the trigger on the gun at Paul Fithian's shoulder because the man wouldn't let him go. The gun didn't go off.

The only way the jury could have returned a not guilty verdict is because they believed Quirantes when he testified, Harada said.

The jury deliberated for at least five hours before notifying the court late yesterday they had reached a verdict.

But Judge Dexter Del Rosario asked that they continue deliberating after they returned verdict forms that had been incorrectly filled out. The confusion apparently arose because of the numerous lesser offenses they were given the option of considering.

The jury returned in about 10 minutes with the properly completed forms.

Prosecutors said the couple have since resumed operating their store on California Avenue. But Pok Cha Fithian suffered permanent disability in her shoulder and permanent scars on her face from the bullet entering her cheek, going through her neck and exiting her shoulder. Her husband said outside the courtroom earlier this week that she suffers from pain everyday from her wounds and must rest constantly because of the pain.

Two other codefendants, Roland Ragasa and Damien Kaahu, face sentencing after pleading to lesser charges. Kaahu, the alleged driver of the getaway car, testified for the state at Quirantes' trial. A fourth codefendant, Farrington Governor Santos, committed suicide in prison a month after the robbery.

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