Big Island man sentenced to life plus 20 years for killing wife's lover
By John Burnett
HILO — A former Waikoloa hotel worker who shot and killed his wife's longtime lover will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.
Circuit Judge Glenn Hara yesterday ordered 56-year-old Lito Mateo to serve a sentence of life in prison for second-degree murder, and another 20 years for the use of a firearm in the commission of a separate felony. He also ruled that Mateo must serve both terms consecutively.
Mateo shot 38-year-old Tito Rafol 18 times with a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol March 8, 2007. The shooting took place in the parking lot of the Waikoloa Marriott Hotel, where Mateo worked as a kitchen steward.
Mateo's wife, Cornelia, who worked in the Marriott's housekeeping department with Rafol, testified that she and Rafol had carried on an affair for eight years.
There were numerous eyewitnesses to the shooting, which took place around 4 p.m. during the day-evening shift change. Those witnesses included Cornelia Mateo and Rafol's sister, Adoracion Acidera.
Mateo's attorney, Deputy Public Defender Michael Ebesugawa, argued for a concurrent sentence. He noted that Mateo — a Philippine-born naturalized U.S. citizen — had no prior criminal record.
"The addition of 20 years on top of a life term is not necessary to punish Mr. Mateo for the use of the firearm in the case," Ebesugawa said. "While the death of Mr. Rafol was very tragic ... the use of the firearm has no particular aggravating effect. ... On the date of the offense, Mr. Mateo was under a high degree of stress. ... We submit that there was substantial provocation or reason why this crime occurred."
Deputy Prosecutor Darien Ching Nagata argued for consecutive sentencing to "provide just punishment for the offense and promote adequate deterrence to criminal conduct."
"What the defendant did — he shot Tito Rafol in the back, not once, but 18 times," Nagata said. "... The defendant shot Tito Rafol in front of his own sister while she had to watch. ... He took away a son from his mother. He took away a brother to his siblings. He took away a husband to his wife. And he took away a father to two innocent young kids."
The judge referred to the shooting as "the jilted spouse basically taking revenge" and "a homicidal rage that resulted in somebody else's death."
"From the court's point of view, I not only need to look at punishment for your conduct, but also deterrence of others," Hara said. "And it is clear in my mind that there should not be any type of an ambiguous message sent out that says if you find yourself in a situation of stress ... that would justify you going out and removing the source of stress, if it was another person, by killing them. That would be entirely the wrong message to give."
In November, a jury rejected Ebesugawa's argument that Mateo was under extreme mental or emotional disturbance, and that conviction on a lesser charge of manslaughter would be more appropriate.
Mateo, shackled and clad in an orange Hawaii Community Correctional Center jumpsuit, said "no" when Hara asked if he wished to speak. Ebesugawa said that Mateo's silence was on advice of counsel, since Mateo, Cornelia Mateo and son Henry Mateo are defendants in a civil suit brought by Rafol's widow, Lee-Ann. Ebesugawa said he believed, but could not confirm, that a settlement had been reached in the lawsuit.
Members of both the Rafol and Mateo families were present during sentencing, including Lee-Ann Rafol, as well as Mateo's daughter, Dina Mateo, and sister, Tess Bruno.
Both families declined to comment afterward.
Ebesugawa told Hara that Mateo would likely appeal the verdict. Ebesugawa did not return a call seeking comment.
Nagata called Hara's decision "a just sentence."
"I think what Judge Hara said rings true and people can't just go out shooting and killing people when they find themselves in a situation that they don't like," Nagata said. "Violence is never the answer."