Motta claims self-defense


POSTED: Thursday, March 05, 2009

Ethan Motta smiled, looked relaxed and even tried to make small talk with a juror during his turn on the witness stand yesterday in his murder and racketeering trial.

;[Preview]  Motta Says Pali Shooting Was In Self Defense

Ethan Motta took the stand denying being involved in illegal gambling and shot two men in self-defense.

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Motta, 40, and his cousin Rodney Joseph Jr., also 40, are on trial in federal court in the murders of Lepo Taliese and Romelius Corpuz Jr., who were gunned down at Pali Golf Course on Jan. 7, 2004, and the attempted murder of Tinoimalu Sao, who survived a gunshot to his face.

Joseph and Motta also are charged with operating an illegal gambling business and racketeering involving violent acts.

The government says the shooting was the result of a violent struggle among four competing factions for control of illegal gambling operations on Oahu.

Motta said he was not involved in and did not profit from illegal gambling and did not arrange security for it, as the government has alleged.

“;Nobody ever gave me money. I never asked. I just helped a friend. That was it,”; Motta said.

The friend is Raymond Gomes Jr., who was brutally beaten and stabbed by members of a rival faction while providing security for an illegal game room on Young Street on July 30, 2003.

Motta said he made a telephone call to a friend to try to prevent further beatings.

On the day of the Pali Golf Course shootings, Motta said he flew to Oahu from his home in Hilo to attend the funeral of Gomes' father. While at Hawaiian Memorial Park in Kaneohe, he said, he got into a car with Joseph and went to Pali Golf Course. Following them in a van were Corpuz, Taliese, Sao, Nixon Maumalanga and Kevin A. Gonsalves.

Gonsalves was also charged with murder in connection with the shooting. He pleaded guilty to racketeering last year and is serving a 330-month sentence.

When he and Joseph got to the golf course parking lot, Motta said, he saw Joseph put a handgun in the waist of his pants and take another handgun from the glove compartment and put it on the front seat.

“;Just in case,”; Joseph told him.

Motta said he greeted Sao with a hug but could feel some tension among the people there. He said he saw Sao look to his right and then to his left as if it was a visual cue, all the while continuing to embrace him.

He said he heard Taliese tell Sao in Samoan to “;Hold him,”; and saw Taliese approach him with a black object in his hand.

Fearing for his safety, Motta said he pushed off Sao, reached into the car, grabbed the handgun from the front seat and fired.

“;I fired at the first person in front of me. I fired twice,”; he said.

Motta said he tripped over Sao, who fell to the ground, and saw that Taliese was still approaching him, so he fired three more shots.

Taliese had four gunshot wounds to his back. A crime-scene reconstruction expert testified later as a defense witness that it is possible for someone to turn 180 degrees in half a second.

Motta said Taliese ran away, but he still feared for his safety because he saw Gonsalves fire more shots from the other side of the car, so he took cover. He said he did not know Gonsalves at the time and feared Gonsalves might be shooting at him. He said he later saw Gonsalves run after the other people from the van and shoot at them.

He said Joseph returned to the car, and they got in and started to leave. He said Joseph stopped the car to let Gonsalves in, then they returned to the funeral.

At the cemetery, Motta said he washed his hands and face, then caught a ride with somebody else to the airport.

He said he thought about calling the police but decided not to because he did not think he could trust police and by then had heard the sirens.

Maumalanga said he ran as soon as the shooting started. He was not shot.