Witness says he saw fatal blow
By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Jim Dooley
A key witness for the prosecution in the manslaughter trial of Less Schnabel Jr. said yesterday he saw the defendant deliver a fatal punch to the head of Christopher Reuther but didn't believe that Schnabel intended to kill the 34-year-old visitor from North Carolina.
Harold Kaeo, 20, testified that Reuther drove a rental car to Zablan Beach Park in Nanaku-li at about 11 p.m. the evening of April 22, 2007, and walk-ed by the tent where Kaeo and six of his friends were living.
Reuther, who was being recruited to attend the University of Hawai'i Law School, was very friendly and, when asked if he wanted to "smoke some weed," said yes and went with one of Kaeo's friends to obtain marijuana, Kaeo said.
When they returned, the group rolled and smoked a joint of marijuana and Reuther began talking to the group "like he knew us for a long time," Kaeo told the jury.
"He told us his whole life story," Kaeo said, testifying that he liked Reuther.
"He was nice, he was cool," Kaeo said.
Reuther took a picture of the group and said he wanted to camp overnight on the beach. Kaeo said he invited Reuther to pitch a tent next to his group's and told him not to walk down to the opposite end of the beach because it was "too corrupted" by crystal methamphetamine users that Kaeo called "chronics."
When Reuther walked back to his rental car, he encountered Schnabel and a companion, Nicole Ako, said Kaeo.
Both had been smoking ice, Kaeo testified.
Ako was so high she could barely walk and had "aku eyes" that were as wide open and unblinking as those of a tuna, said Kaeo.
When Kaeo told Ako, "No make trouble," she shouted at him, "Shut up, Harry," Kaeo testified.
At Schnabel's request, Reuther took a picture of Schnabel and then walked to his rental car. Schnabel followed him and "whacked" Reuther on the side of the head while the victim was removing belongings from the trunk of the car, Kaeo said.
"Less walked behind and he whacked him," Kaeo said.
He said he didn't believe Schnabel intended to kill Reuther.
"All he was trying for do was get something out of the guy. He wasn't trying for kill him," the witness said.
Schnabel took a black bag out of the trunk and walked away from the scene, said Kaeo.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Darrell Wong told the jury that Reuther died two days later of "traumatic hemorrhage" of a major artery at the base of the brain.
He said Reuther was the victim of "a brutal, calculated unprovoked strike to the head."
But Deputy Public Defender Debra K. Loy told the jury in her opening statement that another witness in the case will testify that Schnabel only punched Reuther in self-defense, after "he lunged at Less with both hands raised."
She said Schnabel did not know that "his punch caused a substantial risk of death" to Reuther, a key legal element of the manslaughter charge against Schnabel.
Wong had hoped to introduce evidence of a beachside assault by Schnabel in 2002 when the defendant was 17 years old to show that he was on notice of the serious injuries a punch to the head could cause.
But Circuit Judge Michael Town ruled that evidence was inadmissible in the current trial.
Reuther's sister, Heather Litton, testified that her brother loved to travel and made new friends wherever he went.
But Kaeo said of Reuther: "Maybe he was too friendly."
Reach Jim Dooley at firstname.lastname@example.org.