Closing arguments are set to begin Tuesday in the criminal trial of former Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha, his deputy prosecutor wife Katherine and three Honolulu police officers who are at the center of one of the largest public corruption cases in state history.
The proceedings are expected to be a popular affair, so much so that U.S. District Court Judge J. Michael Seabright plans to prepare a second courtroom for spectators to view the arguments on closed-circuit television.
On Monday, Seabright held a special status conference to go over the last of the particulars of the case. Here’s what you need to know:
The defendants are accused of conspiring to frame Katherine’s uncle, Gerard Puana, for the theft of the Kealohas’ mailbox on June 21, 2013 to stop him from exposing the Kealohas financial crimes.
The prosecution, which is made up of three specially appointed U.S. attorneys from San Diego, will have three hours to present their case to jurors.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Wheat, who is the prosecutor in charge of investigating the Kealohas and other strands of alleged corruption in Hawaii government, will not be giving his side’s closing arguments.
Instead, that task will be left to Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Orabona, who was recently named to the case after one of his colleagues left the Justice Department to work in private practice.
The attorneys for the five defendants will each get one hour and 15 minutes to argue their client’s interests before the jury.
Katherine Kealoha’s court-appointed lawyer, Cynthia Kagiwada, will be the one to argue on her behalf despite the last-minute addition of Earle Partington to her defense team.
Louis Kealoha’s attorney, Rustam Barbee, gave a brief preview of how he plans to defend the former Honolulu police chief for helping frame his wife’s uncle.
Barbee has said he plans to remind the jury of Puana’s previous run-ins with the law, the Kealohas and a roommate at a drug treatment center to show that he has a temper and therefore proves that he was the man caught on surveillance video stealing his client’s mailbox.
The government asked Seabright to preclude the argument from Barbee’s closing, but the judge said he would allow it so long as Barbee keeps his argument narrowly tailored to motive.
In particular, Seabright said Barbee could use a June 27, 2011 incident in which Puana threw a coffee cup at the Kealohas home to show that he was mad at the couple.
Seabright said Barbee could use a similar tack when discussing Puana’s assignment to a drug treatment center after his arrest for unauthorized entry into a home.
Based on the evidence presented at trial, Katherine Kealoha convinced Puana to go the treatment center but didn’t tell him that he would have to remain there for up to two years.
Puana was eventually kicked out of the treatment center after an argument with his roommate, but spent a total of 71 days in jail in part because, witnesses say, Kealoha told family members not to bail him out.
One thing the government won’t discuss during closing arguments are Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen’s cargo shorts.
Nguyen’s attorney Randall Hironaka said in a motion filed over the weekend that he was worried the government planned to say his client was the man seen in surveillance video stealing the Kealohas’ mailbox.
The suspect was wearing cargo shorts at the time of the theft.
Hironaka said he got the impression from the trial that prosecutors planned to infer that his client was the man in the video based on a photo taken of Nguyen at the Kealoha household two days prior.
The prosecution team will get another hour to make rebuttal arguments.
Tuesday’s session is set to begin at 9 a.m. with Seabright reading instructions to the jury about how to consider whether the Kealohas and their co-defendants are guilty or not.
Expect the closing arguments and rebuttal to spill over to Wednesday.
Stay Up To Date On The Coronavirus And Other Hawaii Issues
Not a subscription
Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service.
That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.
Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.