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Thursday, December 14, 2000

Witness testifies
in pilot’s slaying,
admits earlier lies

By Debra Barayuga

Less than a half hour after a gunshot rang out at the Waianae Recreation Center and Donald Calarruda and four other youths fled, he was still shaking. But he could remember Roberto Miguel talking to him.

"Dons, I think I caught the guy," Miguel told him later at Calarruda's Makaha Valley Plantations home.

When asked what Miguel meant, "I think (he meant) he shot the guy," Calarruda said.

Calarruda is the second youth to testify he was with Miguel and three others at the Waianae Recreation Center, or Rest Camp, during the early morning hours of June 3, 1998, when Army Pilot John Latchum was killed.

Miguel is accused of firing a shot from a .22-caliber rifle -- killing Latchum at the beachside cabin where he was vacationing with his family. Also on trial for first-degree murder are Bryson Jose and Keala Leong.

Defense attorneys for the Miguel and Jose earlier questioned Calarruda's credibility during opening statements in the trial, noting that he lied to minimize his role in the shooting.

During questioning yesterday by Miguel's attorney, Federal Deputy Public Defender Peter Wolff, Calarruda revealed he was charged as a juvenile last week with conspiracy, two counts of attempted robbery, attempted burglary and possession of an unregistered firearm in connection with Latchum's slaying.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Johnson said they have made no promises to Calarruda.

Keoni Tapaoan, who testified earlier in the trial that he was with his friends at the Rest Camp that night, has not been charged but decided to take the stand knowing he could face charges.

A third witness who met with the group at the Rest Camp that night is expected to take the stand today.

Calarruda yesterday testified he was "staggering" and his speech was slurred when he, Miguel, Jose, Leong and Tapaoan walked to the Rest Camp after a night of drinking and smoking marijuana. Miguel was similarly intoxicated, "stumbling a little bit."

Calarruda said as they crossed Farrington Highway and headed toward the Rest Camp, he loaded a gun he had brought with him from home earlier in the day and gave it to Miguel, who put it in his pants. At a fence leading into the camp, they encountered someone named "Jay" who also followed them into the campsite.

Earlier in the trial, Tapaoan had testified he heard Miguel and Jose talk about going to the Rest Camp to rob someone on the beach or take property off the beachside cabin porches.

Calarruda said he sat down at a picnic table near one of the cabins and watched as Miguel and Jose walked onto the porch of the first cabin they encountered. Leong remained at the bottom of the steps.

When asked why he didn't join them, Calarruda said, "I was afraid -- I had a bad feeling."

Jose was trying to open the cabin door while Miguel stood next to him with the gun in his pants, Calarruda said.

They were on the porch for about three to five minutes when the door opened. Calarruda saw his friends jump off the porch and a man come out saying something he couldn't comprehend.

"I heard someone yell, 'Run,' so I turned around and started to run," Calarruda said. At an opening in the wall that led to the beach, Calarruda said he turned around and saw Miguel stop running and turn back toward the cabin.

When he started running again, Calarruda said he heard a "pop," and momentarily turned to see Miguel and Jose running in a "slow jog" away from the cabin.

Calarruda said he could hear a woman screaming as they all fled to the Sunflower Apartments just down the road. He, Miguel and Tapaoan caught a ride back to Calarruda's home, where they spent the night.

The next day, Calarruda said, he and Miguel took the gun apart. They disposed of some screws in a drainage ditch and buried the barrel at the bottom of Kili Drive before catching a bus to Waianae High School, he said. They threw a backpack containing the rest of the rifle's parts in a Dumpster.

Calarruda said he later saw Jose that day across the street from Tamura's supermarket. Jose told him "not to say nothing to no one" and "to leave him out of it."

Calarruda met Miguel again the following day and Miguel told him "that the guy died."

Under relentless questioning by Wolff, Calarruda acknowledged he repeatedly lied to police and federal investigators during three separate interviews shortly after the shooting and before a federal grand jury.

Calarruda lied about never seeing the gun before the shooting when in fact he and Miguel had bought the gun from Jose previously for $30 and a necklace. He lied saying he gave the gun to Miguel two days before the incident and didn't see the gun at all the night of the shooting. He told police a stranger named "Jay" had loaded the gun, but later admitted he had loaded it himself.

He said he lied to police that Jose had knocked on the cabin door so detectives would go on to another question. He lied about not knowing what happened to the gun after that night. He lied saying only Miguel had taken apart the gun the next day.

He told Wolff that he was intimidated and nervous during interviews by police and the FBI, but admitted he "left things out" and told more lies in subsequent interviews by telling them his statements were true and accurate.

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