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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, June 2, 2001

Two to stand trial in attack on gay campers

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser KauaÎi Bureau

LIHU'E, Kaua'i — Two young men charged with violent attacks on a group of gay campers a week ago will stand trial on charges of attempted murder.

Eamonn Carolan, top in orange suit, and Orion Macomber, below, with face obscured, are accused of attacking a Kaua'i campsite.

Jan TenBruggencate • The Honolulu Advertiser

A series of witnesses in a two-day preliminary hearing at the Lihu'e Courthouse described terror in the darkness as unknown assailants poured kerosene on tents and set one afire with a man asleep inside, as a hooded man swung a bamboo stick at a camper and as a speeding car repeatedly bore down on their group.

Defense attorneys conceded that the actions in which Orion Macomber, 19, and Eamonn Carolan, 18, have been charged were serious, but argued that such violence did not constitute attempted murder. Judge Trudy Senda, presiding over her first high-visibility case just weeks after her appointment to the District Court bench, disagreed.

Senda found that probable cause existed to try the suspects on all felony counts, including two charges of second-degree attempted murder and a charge of first-degree attempted murder, which carries a mandatory penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The suspects were charged with first-degree attempted murder because there were multiple victims.

It is the kind of case that might also have been charged as a "hate crime," but the recent Legislature's act addressing such targeted violence is still on Gov. Ben Cayetano's desk awaiting signature.

Defense attorney Mark Zenger, representing Carolan, referred to the "reckless, idiotic stuff that went on in that camp that night," but he argued that it lacked the severity to suggest the assailants were trying to take someone's life.

"We think there's probable cause to believe they were in the area. We're not going to argue about that," Zenger said. "But a tent fire in which the victim easily escaped without injury: It's arson stuff. It's fire. It's reckless. It's stupid... . The intent was not to kill someone. It was to scare someone."

Macomber's attorney Peter Morimoto made an issue of high emotions surrounting an attack in which gay victims were targeted for their orientation and heard repeated violent anti-gay slurs from their attackers.

Camper Frederick Rainville had told the court that a man came out of the bushes and began swinging a stick at him, using the phrases "The Bible told me to kill all faggots and sodomizers," and "Die, faggot, die."

Said Morimoto: "I ask the court to set aside the emotion that's surrounding this case."

Senda made no reference to community sentiment, but simply said the evidence was sufficient to find probable cause to take the case to trial.

One of the campers said the case is bigger than just a pair of young men and a group of gay campers.

"Those men are the victims of systemic homophobia, just as we are," said Martin Rice.

"Those two men are the victims of a school system that's failed them. They are victims of a government that has failed them," said Rice, who organized occasional camping trips to Polihale Beach Park for his friends.

But Rice also said he felt more secure after Senda refused to reduce the $250,000 bail for each suspect.

"I would not feel safe if they had been released," he said.

Morimoto and Zenger argued that the parents of both men were prepared to take custody of them if they were released, with whatever court requirements were set, including electronic surveillance. Senda said the bail studies prepared for the cases were done hurriedly, but she was convinced by their recommendations that the men should be kept in custody at the same level of bail. But she added that if further information is uncovered, the attorneys can argue in Circuit Court for reduced bail.

Campers described the Friday night and Saturday morning before the attacks as a pleasant gathering. The group got together from late afternoon to sunset, lighting the area with tiki torches, setting up rainbow-patterned "gay pride" flags so other campers could find the location. There were about 20 people and 15 tents, Rice said.

Not far away, Carolan was camping with two female friends who had all known each other since high school. After dark, they drove to Koloa and picked up Macomber. The women said the group drank a lot of beer — they started with three 12-packs of Heineken, and then picked up another pack of Steinlager beer — and smoked marijuana. Both women said they went to sleep about 1:30 a.m., as the men tended the fire.

About 3:30 a.m., testimony indicated, the campers were awakened by the sound of someone rummaging through their cars, and found Kalena Mande's tent afire and Lance Duncan's tent stained with kerosene and smudged with ash. Rainville said he went to inspect the area after helping douse fires, and was confronted by a man bearing a stick and wearing a poncho-type jacket with a hood.

The man repeatedly swung the stick at him until it hit the flashlight, Rainville said. He saw another man, wearing red surfer shorts, running away from the area with things in his arms, Rainville said.

Not long afterward, as the campers gathered by the road, a car passed by four times, fast, and the campers had to dodge it.

"I felt like I could have been run over," said Jason Yaris.

Duncan said he hit the car with a shovel so that it could later be identified. He said someone yelling anti-gay slogans swung something at him from the passenger side and hit his hand.

Police arrived an hour or so later and met with the group. Officers then found the area where the Macomber-Carolan foursome were camping. Macomber was asleep near the car, with an opened can of kerosene nearby. He was so difficult to wake that police called for medical help. A poncho matching the one Rainville described was inside the car.

Carolan was sleeping on the beach, wearing red surfer shorts. Either Carolan or Macomber had controlled the car keys most of the evening, the women told police. The car showed signs of having been struck by a sharp object, said police officer Darla Abbatiello. One of the women said Carolan told her someone had jumped from the roadside with a shovel and hit the car.