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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, February 7, 2009

Ex-boyfriend gets life for brutal beating death on Hawaii street

Photo gallery: Alapeti Tunoa Jr. sentencing

By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Under a state "three strikes" law passed in 2006, prosecutors added 10 years to the minimum time Alapeti Tunoa Jr., left, must stay in prison.

Photos by GREGORY YAMAMOTO | Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Maile Badajos addressed the court before yesterday's sentencing of Alepeti Tunoa Jr. for the murder of her daughter, Janel Tupuola. "He took her life, and for that he should get life (in prison)," Badajos said.

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Prosecutor Peter Carlisle called the crime an "inhuman, barbarous, merciless slaughter of a young woman," and urged that Alapeti Tunoa Jr. serve from 30 years to life for killing Janel Tupuola last year.

Circuit Judge Randal Lee complied with the request, saying the sentence sends a message to the community that "domestic violence will be treated seriously."

Tunoa bludgeoned Tupuola, 29, to death with a shotgun a year ago.

Witnesses said Tunoa, who stands more than 6 feet tall and weighs some 340 pounds, first rammed Tupuola's car with his vehicle, then dragged her onto the street and smashed her head repeatedly with a shotgun as she screamed in agony.

When 69-year-old bystander Robert Riddle tried to intervene, Tunoa bashed him on the head with the gun, causing serious injuries to the Good Samaritan.

Tupuola and Tunoa were once dating, and her family said Tunoa was angry that she had left him.

Tupuola was a mother of five children who "lived and loved her life to the fullest," her mother, Maile Badajos, told Lee.

She said Tunoa had harassed and threatened Tupuola before he finally "beat her to death."

"She did not deserve to die that way," Badajos said.

"He took her life, and for that he should get life (in prison)," she said.

Diamond Badajos, niece of the victim, called Tunoa "an absolute wretch in every sense of the word."

She said she could not describe the irreversible "pain, heartache and agony" the crime has caused to Tupuola's loved ones."

Byron Riddle, son of Robert Riddle, said that his father now lives in Thailand and is still suffering from the head injuries inflicted by Tunoa.

The elder Riddle has "temporary memory losses" and also symptoms of depression, his son said.

Before he was sentenced, Tunoa told the judge, "I'm really sorry things happened the way they did. I'm here now. I take responsibility."

Carlisle was able to add an extra 10 years to Tunoa's minimum time behind bars by involving, for the first time, a "three strikes" law passed by the Legislature in 2006 aimed at "habitual violent felons."

Use of the law stretches the minimum amount of time the defendant must serve before being even considered for parole from 20 years to 30 years, Carlisle said.

And his office will argue to the Hawai'i Paroling Authority that Tunoa never receive parole, the prosecutor said.

Tunoa's lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Jason Burks, said after the sentencing that his client could have gone to trial with a defense that he was under "extreme mental or emotional distress" when the crime was committed.

But even if that defense was successful, Burks said, Tunoa still would have been convicted of a manslaughter charge, which carries the same minimum sentence as the murder charge.

And Tunoa wanted to spare both his family and the Tupuola family the "trauma" of a courtroom trial, Burks said.

Carlisle said that although his office has never applied the "three strikes" law before, it is a valuable tool for law enforcement.

It applies to any defendant convicted of a violent felony who is at least 18 years old and who already has a record of at least two earlier violent felony convictions.

A bill now pending before the Legislature would repeal the law, but Carlisle said the measure should remain "permanently" on the books.

The repeal proposal says the three strikes law is "overly broad" and should be stricken for a number of reasons.

Among them: It can lead to "long prison terms for nonviolent offenders"; it can contribute to prison overcrowding; and it deprives judges of the ability to issue "appropriate individualized sentences."

The measure has yet to come up for a public hearing and has been referred to both the House Judiciary and Finance Committees for hearings.

Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu, D-41st (Waipahu, Village Park, Waikele), the Judiciary Committee chairman, could not be reached for comment on the bill yesterday.

Reach Jim Dooley at jdooley@honoluluadvertiser.com.