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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, February 21, 2004

Trial opens in home shooting

By David Waite
Advertiser Courts Writer

A Waipahu teenager never planned last June to shoot a Punchbowl man in the chest and was not trying to kill him, the youth's lawyer said yesterday in the opening of a trial over the shooting last year that shocked and frightened many O'ahu residents.

Miti Maugaotega Jr. is on trial for attempted murder, burglary and robbery in connection with the shooting of Eric Kawamoto.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

"It wasn't supposed to happen," state Deputy Public Defender Walter Rodby said of the incident in which Miti Maugaotega Jr. shot Eric Kawamoto in the chest with a .45-caliber handgun.

Maugaotega's trial on attempted murder, robbery and burglary charges began with City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle telling the jury in his opening statement that Kawamoto, 44, walked into his Puowaina Street home June 26 as Maugaotega was burglarizing it.

Maugaotega aimed and shot Kawamoto with a Colt .45 handgun, Carlisle said.

The daylight shooting of a man in his own home by an armed intruder left others in the neighborhood uncertain of their safety. Carlisle also held a news conference after the shooting and said the incident was emblematic of a property crime epidemic on O'ahu, one fueled primarily by drug use.

"If ever a case was tailor-made to show property offenses have dangerous potential, this is it," Carlisle said at the news conference.

The prosecutor told the jury yesterday that Maugaotega pointed "a very large, very real and very powerful" gun at Kawamoto and demanded his wallet.

Kawamoto complied, but things "quickly went from bad to worse" when Maugaotega ordered Kawamoto at gunpoint to go down the steps leading to the bottom level of his three-level home.

"He was afraid if he went down the steps he might never come up again," Carlisle said.

At that point, Maugaotega aimed the gun at Kawamoto's chest and pulled the trigger, but it misfired, Carlisle said. He said Maugaotega then deliberately "chambered a round" and pulled the trigger again.

This time, "a bullet exploded out of the barrel," hit Kawamoto in the chest, knocking him to his knees, Carlisle said.

In his opening statement, however, Rodby said Maugaotega wanted Kawamoto to go to the bottom level of the home so that Kawamoto wouldn't impede his escape.

He said Maugaotega deliberately kept from putting a bullet into the gun's firing chamber and did so only after Kawamoto tried to disarm him and told Maugaotega that he would rather be shot than comply with the orders to go down the stairs.

Rodby did not deny Maugaotega shot Kawamoto. But he said the gun Maugaotega used was designed to fire bullets just as fast as the trigger was pulled. "Mr. Kawamoto was hit only with one round. Mr. Maugaotega ran away without shooting many, many, many times as someone intending to kill another would have," Rodby said.

Even as police officers closed in on him to the rear of Hawaii Baptist Academy off Nu'uanu Avenue, Maugaotega chose not to shoot at them, Rodby said.

Carlisle said the bullet that hit Kawamoto, an electrical engineer who works for the military, entered the left side of his chest, but missed his heart. Afterward, Kawamoto managed to knock on his neighbor's door and asked her to call 911.

Police responding to the call first saw Maugaotega near a convenience mart on Pauoa Road then pursued him on foot in the Nu'uanu Avenue area.

When they finally captured him, his pockets were so loaded with jewelry, watches, coins and other items taken from the Kawamoto home, his shorts had begun to slide off his waist, Carlisle said.

Maugaotega, who was 17 at the time of the shooting, waived his rights to a hearing in Family Court last August to determine whether he should be tried as an adult.

He was also indicted by the O'ahu grand jury on Dec. 18 on charges of burglarizing Nu'uanu homes on May 23 and 28; robbery, burglary and a firearms offense in connection with the June 16 break-in of a Nu'uanu home; sex assault, robbery, burglary, assault and a firearms offense in connection with a June 23 incident at a Makiki home; and promoting prison contraband for allegedly making or possessing a dangerous weapon Aug. 17 while held at the Hawai'i Youth Correctional Facility. His trial for those charges will be held later.

Carlisle chose to prosecute the Kawamoto shooting himself, adding it to a short list of high profile cases that includes the trial of Byran Uyesugi who was convicted of murdering seven fellow Xerox employees and the manslaughter trial of Clyde Arakawa, an off-duty police officer who drove while drunk and crashed his car, killing a University of Hawai'i student.

Reach David Waite at 525-8030 or dwaite@honoluluadvertiser.com.