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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, August 11, 2001

Jail possible for golf ball incident

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

Taniguchi: Golf ball struck her in mouth

A former University of Hawai'i student could face up to five years in prison after he was found guilty yesterday of felony assault for hitting a golf ball that struck a high school softball player in the mouth in February.

Circuit Judge Karl Saka-moto found Daniel Copperud, 20, guilty of one count of second-degree assault. Copperud, who was in his hometown of Worthington, Minn., yesterday, faces a maximum five years in prison for the felony conviction when he is sentenced by Sakamoto Nov. 20.

City Deputy Prosecutor Wayne Tashima said he will ask that Copperud spend some time in prison, but he did not know for how long.

Reached yesterday in Minnesota, the Copperud family said it had no comment on the verdict. Victor Bakke, Copperud's attorney, said he will appeal Sakamoto's verdict.

Copperud never denied hitting two golf balls from the rear of the Johnston Hall dormitory on Dole Street Feb. 2. The dormitory overlooks the Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium, where Iolani School was playing in the state softball tournament that day. Copperud told police that his intent was to reach the stadium, which is about 250 yards away.

One of the balls struck Iolani softball player Amy Taniguchi in the mouth while she was standing in the dugout waiting to bat.

The blow knocked out one of Taniguchi's teeth, loosened others, bloodied her mouth, and forced her dentist to place braces on her upper teeth. A temporary tooth also was inserted to replace the missing tooth.

Taniguchi testified at the trial that she continues to suffer pain and she has a difficult time eating.

In his ruling yesterday, Sakamoto said Copperud's actions were "unquestionably reckless." Sakamoto said the defendant knew that a game was being played at the softball stadium and someone could have been seriously injured.

"This is not just a case of a lost tooth," Sakamoto said.

The judge said Copperud needed to hit the ball very hard to reach the stadium.

"The golf ball itself becomes a hard and dangerous projectile," Sakamoto said. "This hard and dangerous projectile smashes into Amy Taniguchi's mouth."

The judge said Taniguchi's testimony was "decisive" in showing that she suffered a serious bodily injury. Sakamoto disagreed with a defense argument that Taniguchi did not suffer any long-term health effects.

"She simply tells us that after six months, she is still unable to use her front teeth," Sakamoto said.

"When she says she's OK, it's because she will not let the tragedy from her injury, or adversity or obstacles, to stand in the way of her continuing on the way she will live her life," he added. "As strong and determined as Miss Taniguchi is, she is still, however, unable to use her front teeth."

Bakke said Sakamoto showed sympathy to Taniguchi but did not follow the law. He said Taniguchi suffered "substantial bodily injuries," not serious bodily injuries, and said Copperud should have been convicted of third-degree assault, a misdemeanor.

"Unfortunately this has been a witch hunt from the very beginning, and I hope the Supreme Court doesn't believe in witches also," Bakke said.

He said Taniguchi received special treatment because she was an Iolani student. Bakke said the detective who investigated the case, dentists, people in the prosecutor's office, as well as the first judge who was assigned the case all had ties to the private school.

"This has been an Iolani show from the beginning," Bakke said. "We haven't been able to shake this Iolani stigma from the very beginning."

Tashima disagreed and said the facts in the case, not the Iolani connection, led to Copperud's conviction.

"We have the facts and the judge recited the facts and that's how he arrived at his verdict," Tashima said.

Taniguchi, an incoming freshman at the University of Hawai'i, did not want to comment after the verdict. But Tashima said she was satisfied with the verdict.

Still pending is a lawsuit filed by Taniguchi against Copperud. Taniguchi is seeking an undetermined amount in damages.

Reach Curtis Lum at 525-8025 or culum@honoluluadvertiser.com.