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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, July 25, 2003

U.S. Attorney to ask for review of Latchum decision

By David Waite
Advertiser Courts Writer

Ed Kubo, the U.S. attorney for Hawai'i, will ask all of the judges on the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals to review a three-judge panel's decision that could mean a new trial for two Wai'anae Coast men convicted of murder for the 1998 slaying of an Army helicopter pilot.

Two of the three appeals court judges who reviewed the case concluded that federal Judge Helen Gillmor made a mistake when she prevented a defense attorney from suggesting to the jury that the person who fired the bullet that killed John Latchum Jr. was not one of the murder defendants.

Gillmor told the jury that there was no evidence presented during the December 2000 trial that anyone other than one of the defendants charged with Latchum's murder had fired the bullet that killed him.

Roberto Miguel and Bryson Jose were found guilty of murder and sentenced to life without parole. Jose was 20 when Latchum was shot; Miguel was 17.

The third judge on the appeals court panel concluded that it did not matter who fired the shot that killed Latchum because Miguel and Jose knew that a gun was present when they went to the Wai'anae Army Recreation Center in June 1998 intent on burglarizing one of the cabins and possibly robbing its occupants.

While the appeals court ruling could mean a new murder trial for Jose and Miguel, they won't be released from prison. Miguel was also sentenced to 40 years on the firearms and other charges; Jose received a 10-year sentence for possession of an unregistered firearm.

If the 9th Circuit rejects a request for a review of the 2-1 decision, Kubo said his office will have to decide whether to retry Jose and Miguel for murder.

"We won't do that without the approval of Mr. Latchum's family," Kubo said.

If the family members decide they don't want to go through the ordeal of another trial, the federal prosecutors will go back to court to ask that Jose and Miguel be sentenced on some of the other counts they were convicted of during the trial but not sentenced.

Because the two were convicted and sentenced to life without parole, the prosecution did not attempt to have them sentenced for every one of the crimes they were convicted of, Kubo said.

Kubo said his office would ask that Miguel and Jose be sentenced on all of the counts and that all of the sentences run consecutively. Doing so would result in prison sentences that are equivalent to life terms, Kubo said.

John Latchum Jr. and his wife, Wendy, were spending a weekend at the Recreation Center with their two children. Latchum had gone to bed and was awakened by his wife who thought she heard someone trying to break in.

Latchum went out onto the cabin's porch and told a group of young men to leave and that he was going to call police. He was shot once in the chest with a .22-caliber rifle. The bullet pierced his heart. He died on the cabin's front porch.