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Thursday, November 23, 2000

Wendy Latchum, with husband, John Latchum Jr.,
son, Joshua, 8, and daughter, Breanna, 4. John
Latchum Jr. was shot to death at the Waianae
Army Recreation Center in 1998.

Widow tells
how youths killed
her husband

Wendy Latchum testifies
at the trial of three young
men accused of the 1998
murder in Waianae

By Debra Barayuga

She heard a pop.

It sounded like a firecracker.

Then her husband, who stood just ahead of her, stumbled backward.

When he said "Oh, my God," and clutched his chest, Wendy Latchum realized what had happened.

Her husband of 11 1/2 years had been shot. And the group of youths who had stood moments earlier outside the door of their beach-side cabin, apparently attempting to get in, did nothing.

"They stood there and watched."

When she began screaming hysterically, the group fled, she said.

Latchum, wife of Army helicopter pilot John Russell Latchum, testified yesterday in the first-degree murder trial of Bryson Jose, Keala Leong and Roberto Miguel.

Planned to break into cabin

The three are charged with murder in the commission of another felony. They are accused of being part of a group of youths who tried to break into the Latchum's beach-side cabin at the Waianae Army Recreation Center in the early morning hours of June 3, 1998, with the intent of robbing them.

What happened next left Latchum, mother of then 8-year-old Joshua and 4-year-old Breanna, a widow at 32.

Latchum yesterday described the last moments she saw her husband alive and how he died despite efforts to resuscitate him.

"He was bleeding from the mouth and sounded like he was choking from his own blood. He had a hard time breathing," she said.

Fire Department and ambulance crews worked on her husband at the cabin and on the way to the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center. "He died before we left the cabins," Latchum said. The family was to have checked out later that day to return home.

An autopsy revealed that John Latchum died from a bullet that entered his right chest, punctured his lung, pierced his heart and lodged in his opposite lung.

Government prosecutors contend the bullet came from a .22-caliber sawed-off rifle fired by Miguel, who was 17 at the time.

Had been partying

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Johnson said Miguel, Jose and Leong had been partying earlier in the day and that night with three other friends at various locations in Waianae --the Sunflower Apartments and the home of a Waianae teacher -- when they began talking about robbing someone with the gun. They decided to walk to the nearby Waianae Army Recreation Center, also known as Rest Camp.

The gun apparently belonged to Don Calarruda, who had brought the gun with him that day, along with bullets. The gun was passed around and was the subject of fascination when it was brought out, said assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Johnson.

After the shooting, the group fled back toward the Sunflower Apartments. On the way, they bumped into an acquaintance who saw Jose trying to stick the rifle into a backpack carried by Leong. Jose allegedly told the acquaintance, "Uncle, you better run. We just went shoot someone."

Peter Wolff, federal public defender for Miguel, and Don Wilkerson, attorney for Jose, contend that two of the government's witnesses lied to protect themselves, minimized their roles in the shooting and aren't credible.

Witness accused of lying

Wolff asked jurors to carefully consider the testimony of Calarruda and Keoni Tapaoan, who confessed their involvement to the FBI agents and led them to the murder weapon.

Neither face any criminal charges, although the gun belonged to Calarruda. He gave three statements in which he "lied, lied again and lied some more," Wolff said. He denied the gun was his at first, then later recanted and blamed Miguel as the shooter.

In the nearly 2 1/2 years since the shooting, Calarruda and Tapaoan had the opportunity to go over what they would be testifying at trial, Wolff said.

Wilkerson said Jose was not with the rest when the gun was fired earlier at a bank surveillance camera, nor when a youth was robbed at gunpoint of his backpack.

Rustam Barbee, attorney for Leong, said the government will not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he is guilty of the charges.

Leong did not "plan, conspire or participate" in attempted burglary and robbery. Leong "did not shoot ... did not kill John Latchum," Barbee said.

If convicted of first-degree murder, each faces life without the possibility of parole.

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