With a slight wave, retired Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha introduced himself to more than 400 prospective jurors gathered at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center, 12 of whom will be picked to decide his fate.
Kealoha and his wife, Katherine, who’s a former city prosecutor, face a series of federal charges for allegedly framing her uncle, Gerard Puana, for the theft of their mailbox using the help of a special team of police officers.
Three of those officers, Derek Hahn, Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen and Gordon Shiraishi, are standing trial with the Kealohas.
The five defendants appeared briefly at the Blaisdell Center for the first day of jury selection. While most stared straight ahead, it was Louis Kealoha, dressed in a suit and tie, who turned to face the crowd.
Due to the high profile nature of the case, the court sent out 1,500 notifications to potential jurors.
Of those, more than 400 were called to the Pikake Room at the Blaisdell Center to fill out a questionnaire that will be used to help select the 12 individuals who will hear evidence in the case.
The U.S. District Court in downtown Honolulu did not have the space to accommodate that many people.
District Court Judge J. Michael Seabright, draped in black robes, greeted the jurors at the Blaisdell Center from behind a wooden dais.
He then explained the importance of jury duty and implored his audience to avoid any outside discussion of the case.
“That means do not read, watch or listen to any news,” Seabright said. “This is an order. It’s not optional.”
The case is unprecedented in many respects, and the venue for the first day of jury selection was just one more reminder.
The federal investigation, which now includes multiple indictments, has reached far beyond the mailbox conspiracy.
The Kealohas face an additional trial for their alleged financial misdeeds.
Katherine Kealoha also faces charges related to allegations she and her younger brother, Rudolph Puana, ran a prescription drug ring and that Kealoha used her position as a city prosecutor to keep it hidden.
The prospective jurors spent about an hour Monday answering a 13-page questionnaire that sought details about their own personal backgrounds and their views on the defendants.
The packet also included 14 pages of potential witnesses in the case.
Of the 31 questions, five concerned prior media coverage of the case and jurors’ prior knowledge of the charges faced by the defendants, including whether the jurors had formed any opinions as to their guilt or innocence.
Another question asked whether any of the jurors have ever had mail stolen from their mailboxes.
According to court officials, the questionnaires will be used to whittle the pool of 413 prospective jurors down to about 45 people who will then be asked to return for ongoing jury selection proceedings.
That process is expected to take several days and could start as soon as this week at the U.S. District Court in downtown Honolulu.
An hour after Seabright left the potential jurors to answer the questionnaires, the line waiting for a taxi outside the Blaisdell Center had exceeded the number of people left in the Pikake Room filling them out.
The Kealohas and their attorneys, Rustam Barbee and Cynthia Kagiwada, declined to speak with Civil Beat after Monday’s proceeding. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Wheat, who is the special prosecutor in the case, also declined to comment.
The opening statements for the trial are set to begin as early as May 22.
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