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Thursday, December 21, 2000

Jurors ponder
facts, fates in
Waianae case

If the three are found guilty
of killing the Army pilot at the
rest camp, they could face up to
life in prison without parole

By Debra Barayuga

Did three youths on trial for felony murder go to the Waianae Army Recreation Center in the early morning hours of June 3, 1998, with the intent to break into Cabin 48F and rob the occupants?

And in their attempts to break in and rob someone, was someone killed and, if so, was the killing a reasonably foreseeable consequence?

Those are questions jurors in the murder trial of Roberto Miguel, Bryson Jose and Keala Leong are wrestling with today to decide whether to convict the trio in the death of Army helicopter pilot John Latchum.

If convicted, each faces up to life without parole.

During closing arguments yesterday, the government contended that it was the youths' sole intent to break in, rob and shoot someone when they sneaked onto the porch of the cabin occupied by John and Wendy Latchum and their two children.

John Latchum was fatally shot when he went outside to scare them off.

The group's intention was revealed earlier that night in a conversation between Miguel and Jose about going to the recreation center to "rob some people, shoot somebody," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Johnson.

The two defendants clearly took "affirmative steps" to committing a crime, he said.

Witnesses testified that when Miguel, the alleged trigger-man, took out a rifle as he stood on the cabin's porch, they knew something bad was going to happen.

Another witness said Jose was bent over the sliding glass door with what appeared to be a screwdriver as though trying to break in.

Although witnesses said they saw Leong on the bottom step of the porch, he "aided and abetted" his friends by lending support in the "use of force and intimidation" -- an element of robbery -- and the unlawful entering of the cabin, Johnson contended.

Keoni Tapaoan, who was with the group that night but has not been charged with any crime, testified that Miguel told him, "I shot the guy," and demonstrated to Tapaoan his firing stance.

"This was not a lucky shot," Johnson said. "This was not an accident."

The gun had been passed around among members of the group, used to shoot at a bank surveillance camera and to threaten a man earlier that night, Johnson said. "The killing occurred as a reasonably foreseeable consequence in the attempted burglary and robbery."

Don Wilkerson, attorney for Jose, argued that there was no physical evidence showing his client attempted to break into the cabin and rob the occupants. Peter Wolff, deputy public defender for Miguel, argued that the government witnesses were not trustworthy and had much to gain from testifying against Miguel and the other defendants.

Even if no promises were made to Tapaoan and Donald Calarruda, the fifth youth who was with the group at the rest camp, the two were hoping that if they helped convict Miguel, the government would go easier on them, Wolff said.

It was Calarruda's gun that was used that night, Wolff said.

He also disputed whether his client had the intent to commit crimes. With all the beer they had drunk and marijuana they had smoked, "who knows really what was in anybody's mind?" Wolff asked.

Johnson argued that voluntary intoxication is only an excuse if they were so drunk that they weren't capable of intending to burglarize or rob the occupants of the cabin.

Jose, who ended up with the gun after they fled the rest camp, had the wherewithal to attempt to hand off the gun to Tapaoan who refused, Johnson said.

Rustam Barbee, attorney for Leong, argued that his client did not shoot or kill anyone, nor knowingly, willingly or intentionally participate in the events at the cabin that night.

"A person's mere presence and knowledge at the scene of a crime, even if he was aware a crime was going on, is insufficient to convict or prove guilt," Barbee said. While the shooting occurred in Waianae, Makaha boys Calarruda and Tapaoan came up with the idea of robbing someone , he said.

Calarruda has since been charged in connection with the shooting, but not with felony murder. The government has not promised Tapaoan that he will not be charged.

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