Friday, April 6, 2001

Joel Keoni Brunson, left, was allowed a moment with his father,
Joel Brunson Sr., yesterday, prior to being taken into custody
after the guilty verdict was read at circuit court.

Father maintains
his son is innocent

Joel Brunson faces
life with parole after his
murder conviction

By Debra Barayuga

The father of Joel Keoni Brunson continues to maintain his son is innocent even after a jury found him guilty of murdering an 18-year-old man at a birthday party in Ewa.

"I'm hurt," said Joel Brunson Sr. yesterday of the jury's decision at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"My son would have told me if he shot someone. He would have called me right away."

When son Keoni was identified as the shooter, he had asked one of the hardest questions a father could ask of his son. "I looked him straight in the eye. 'Did you do it?' He told me no."

That's the reason why he attended trial, he said, and why he continues to stand by his son.

Brunson, 18, faces life with parole when sentenced Sept. 17. He was also convicted of two firearms offenses and first-degree terroristic threatening.

Robert Rodemio, 18, of Kalihi, was shot in the back during a brawl between rival gang members outside a Miula Street home on May 20. He had gone to the party with a friend and did not know the girl the party was for.

Roberta Rodemio, mother of the victim, cried on the phone when she was notified of the verdict. "I am so, so happy, but I am sad because I cannot see my son."

She was in the Philippines visiting her other children when she got the call that her eldest son had been killed.

During trial the defense had maintained that Brunson was not the shooter but was at home at the time watching his two younger brothers when Rodemio was killed around 10 p.m.

Both Brunson's mother and his girlfriend provided alibis for his whereabouts that night: Brunson and his girlfriend had gone to the party, but they had argued, so he went home early and allowed her to take his car to return to the party.

"My client's innocent, and the person who committed this homicide is walking away scot-free," said defense attorney Myles Breiner, noting he believes he has good grounds to file an appeal.

He expects a problem will arise when Brunson appears before the Hawaii Paroling Authority for a minimum term hearing and is expected to show remorse. "It's difficult to be remorseful for something you didn't do."

Breiner said he has reason to believe that the person actually responsible for Rodemio's murder has fled the state. He said he was not allowed to ask about this person at trial because the information was based on hearsay.

But deputy prosecutor Franklin Pacarro Jr. said that at least seven witnesses -- some who knew Brunson or lived by him -- said he was at the party around the time of the shooting or saw him holding a gun.

Pacarro said there was pressure on witnesses not to testify since the beginning of the case. Even those who eventually took the stand for the state were reluctant to testify and indicated they had concerns for their safety. In at least one instance, the parent of a witness filed a report with police after she was threatened over the phone by an unknown female.

Breiner disputed the allegations of threats, saying there has been no evidence to support Brunson has acted inappropriately.

The jury had deliberated about seven days, with an eight-day break in between, because a couple of jurors had trips planned and no one thought the trial would take this long.

The trial, which lasted 28 days over a period of almost three months, was marred by at least six motions by the defense for a mistrial based on allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and juror misconduct.

In the courtroom, both father and son showed no visible reaction when the verdicts were read. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.

But just before his son was led away, Joel Brunson Sr. leaned over a courtroom bench and embraced his son for a long period.

Circuit Judge Michael Town granted the state's request to have Brunson committed without bail pending sentencing.

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