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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 31, 2009

Motta tape airs 'true colors'

By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Accused murderer Rodney Joseph Jr. "went show his true colors" when he shot underworld rivals in January 2004, Joseph's co-defendant Ethan Motta told an undercover FBI informant on a four-year-old tape recording that was made public yesterday.

"Like, he did them like nothin', know what I mean?" Motta said of Joseph's part in the shootings that left two men dead and another critically injured at the Pali Golf Course on Jan. 3, 2004.

Trial of the two men begins Tuesday in federal court on charges they used murder, robbery and extortion to protect their racketeering business.

The tape recording and a transcript of it prepared by the FBI were released late yesterday afternoon on the instructions of U.S. District Court Judge Susan Oki Mollway.

The prosecutor in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Brady, and defense attorneys Reginald Minn and Charles Carnesi all suggested that the tape and transcript be filed under seal.

But Mollway said that since she was required to rule on whether the tape could be used at trial, she wanted the material made available to the public.

She cited as legal precedent a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion, issued when The Advertiser sought access to sealed court files, that said there is a "compelling need" for public access to such documents.

But Mollway did order some portions of the tape stricken from the public record because they "all concern a single person and possible wrongdoing by this person" who is named on the tape.

Mollway did not name the individual. Mollway said the allegations made about him, mostly by the informant, are extremely serious but unproven.

"Few things could be more serious," the judge said.

"There is no way that I would protect this person or this information, but few statements could be more damaging if not true," the judge said.

Joseph's lawyer, Minn, said it was apparent from the tape that the statements which Mollway ordered stricken from the record were the main reason the FBI had sent the informant to talk to Motta.

Minn said if the contents of the tape are introduced at trial, he would have to ask questions about the redacted statements. Mollway agreed that the information would then have to become public.

All parties indicated it is unlikely the tape will be used at trial. It can only be used if Motta takes the witness stand and denies participating in the Pali killings, or if Motta's lawyer makes similar statements on his client's behalf.

Both Motta and Joseph have already admitted guilt in plea bargains struck with the government last year. But the pleas which called for sentences of 27 1/2 years in prison were withdrawn after Mollway refused to approve them. She said last year that she didn't feel the defendants had provided sufficient cooperation with the government to qualify for anything less than life terms behind bars.

Contents of the guilty pleas also can't be used against Motta and Joseph during the trial except to impeach them if they testify differently on the witness stand.

Reach Jim Dooley at jdooley@honoluluadvertiser.com.