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Friday, July 28, 2000

describes scene at
bank robbery

By Debra Barayuga


They were four of them, dressed in black from head to toe with what appeared to be machine guns slung around their necks.

They were close enough that Rhiannon Moschetti could hear the guns "clanking against each other" as they entered the bank into which her boyfriend had disappeared earlier to make a deposit.

She immediately hung up on her sister and called 911.

Moschetti was one of three witnesses to testify on the first day of the attempted murder trial of Albert Batalona, one of four men charged in the July 7, 1999, "takeover" robbery that netted them more than $100,000.

Batalona is accused of firing more than 20 shots from an assault rifle at officer Frederick Rosskopf, the first officer to arrive after being dispatched at 10:03 a.m. to investigate the bank robbery.

If convicted of first-degree attempted murder, Batalona faces life imprisonment without parole. He also faces charges of first-degree robbery and two firearm offenses, one involving the hijacking of a van to make his getaway.

Three other codefendants -- Roger Dailey, Sean Matsunaga and Jacob Hayme -- pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to bank robbery and are expected to testify against Batalona under a plea agreement reached with federal prosecutors.

After calling 911, Moschetti, who was sitting in her car fronting the bank when she spotted the gunmen, said she lowered her seat so she couldn't be seen. Just before the gunmen came out, she managed to get the license plate of a white Blazer that they had exited from earlier.

Moschetti's voice on the 911 tape played to jurors sounded frantic as she implored the operator to send police right away. "Please hurry, I don't want nothing to happen," she cried.

An unidentified male also called 911 after he pulled up to the drive-up teller window and spotted at least three males wearing masks inside the bank.

Rosskopf, who was just around the corner at Times Super Market when he got the call, could be heard yelling "shots fired, shots fired," on the tape 40 seconds later, according to Honolulu police Detective Larry Tamashiro who reviewed the 911 calls.

After the shooting stopped, Moschetti said she heard a car speeding away and assumed the robbers had fled. But when she got out of her car, she spotted one of the gunmen still remaining, standing to her left. "I just stopped, looked at him and started running to the bank."

Upon questioning by Batalona's attorney, David Klein, Moschetti said she didn't believe the gunman was going to hurt her because he looked "kinda scared."

Tamashiro said the investigation initially pointed to one shooter. But when test results on the casings that were recovered from the shooting scene came back a few weeks later, at least five of the casings matched the weapon Hayme carried that day.

While the defense doesn't dispute Batalona was involved in the robbery, they say the wrong man is on trial for attempted murder.

Klein said during opening statements that Hayme and Matsunaga admitted to firing their weapons that day and that Dailey will testify that he never saw Batalona fire his weapon.

Deputy Prosecutor Jean Ireton said Batalona "scoped" the bank's interior floor plan, doors and parking the day before. That night, he and the others returned to the bank to check out the bank's exterior, including escape routes.

They later went to a park to discuss "who was going to do what" the following day. They were "pumping themselves up" and "getting psyched," Ireton said. Batalona allegedly told the others, "If the cops show up, I'm going to shoot."

The next day, all four dressed in "combat-type apparel," including ski masks. Batalona and Hayme also wore bullet-proof vests, Ireton said.

Rosskopf is expected to take the stand today.

The state also is expected to call Siosaia Talakai, a friend of Batalona's who was instructed to dig up two assault rifles buried near the Tantalus lookout and kill Dailey for "ratting" on him.

A supermarket discount card later found in the abandoned Blazer led police to Dailey who later admitted to his involvement and named his accomplices.

The trial is expected to last into next week. Klein declined to say whether Batalona will take the stand.

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