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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 30, 2005

High Court upholds burglar's life terms

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Hawai'i Supreme Court has narrowly upheld consecutive life sentences imposed on a 19-year-old man after he committed a series of violent crimes in 2003, including the shooting of a Punchbowl man in his home.

Miti Maugaotega Jr. was sentenced in May 2004 to life without the possibility of parole for shooting Eric Kawamoto on June 26, 2003, during a burglary.

Circuit Judge Patrick Broder also granted a prosecution motion to sentence Maugaotega to 10 consecutive terms of life with the possibility of parole after he was found guilty of 21 other felonies, including the sexual assault of a woman.

Broder agreed with city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle that Maugaotega posed a danger to the public because of his extensive history of violent crimes.

In February 2005, the Hawai'i Paroling Authority ruled that Maugaotega must serve the life sentence without parole for the shooting and then 140 years before he can be considered for parole. The mandatory minimum was one of the longest terms ever handed down by the parole board.

Under state law, the governor can commute the sentence to life with parole after Maugaotega serves 20 years.

Maugaotega's attorney appealed the harsh sentence and argued that it violated Maugaotega's constitutional rights.

Deputy Public Defender Karen Nakasone argued that a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling required that a jury, not a judge, determine if extended terms were necessary for the protection of the public.

In a 3-2 ruling, Chief Justice Ronald Moon was joined by Associate Justices Steven Levinson and Paula Nakayama in denying the defense's argument. Associate Justices Simeon Acoba and James Duffy dissented.

The majority wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling was limited to mandatory federal sentencing guidelines. Hawai'i's extended-term sentencing law, the justices wrote, is "purely discretionary and not mandatory" and is not affected by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision.

Nakasone could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Carlisle said Maugaotega can ask the state Supreme Court to reconsider its decision, or file an appeal in federal court.

"If ever there was a person who deserved to be slammed, it was this guy," Carlisle said. "He was just a walking disaster at age 17 and came within a quarter of an inch of killing an upstanding member of our community. Our extended-term provisions tend to only be imposed on the worst of the worst, and this guy definitely qualifies."

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