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Jury finds Makuola Collins guilty in Kaneohe murder case

By Rosemarie Bernardo and Gordon Y.K. Pang

Star-Advertiser staff

LAST UPDATED: 1:05 p.m. HST, Dec 28, 2011

After a week of deliberations, a Circuit Court jury found Makuola Collins guilty of second-degree murder and second-degree attempted murder in the fatal shooting of former Castle High School football teammate Joel Botelho outside of Botelho's parent's Kaneohe home in the early morning of January 2.

He was also found guilty of firearms violations.

Collins, 27, faces a maximum sentence of life without parole. The jury will return for a hearing on January 5 to decide if Collins should be eligible for parole.

The trial before Judge Karen Ahn lasted for nearly eight days. Opening arguments began on December 13.

In closing arguments on December 21, Deputy Prosecutor Wayne Tashima showed the jury, and the gallery, a photo of Botelho's bloodied knees in an attempt to prove the victim had been forced to kneel before he was shot, and then a photo showing where a bullet entered above the victim's chest.

Tashima painted Botelho, 27, as an innocent peacemaker who "paid" for attempting to step between a violent and simmering dispute between his younger brother, Leon "Bubba" Botelho, 22, and Collins.

David Hayakawa, Collins' attorney, argued that there are many gaps in the information that leave a reasonable doubt for the jury. The weapon that killed Joel Botelho, believed to be a handgun, was never recovered, and Hayakawa suggested repeatedly that it was Leon Botelho who shot his brother and then hid the evidence. Leon Botelho has been the only person to identify Collins as the man who shot his brother, Hayakawa said.

Hayakawa said there were also inconsistencies in statements made by Leon Botelho and other prosecution witnesses.

Tashima said Collins had gathered a group of relatives and friends to go the Botelhos' home during the early morning hours of Jan. 2 after Bubba Botelho had "false-cracked" him at the Club Komo Mai bar in Kaneohe a few hours earlier.

Collins was met by Joel Botelho, who tried to calm him down, Tashima said. When Leon Botelho fired a warning shot into the ground, Collins forced Joel Botelho to kneel and then shot him, Tashima said. Collins then shot at Leon Botelho, missing, before fleeing the scene.

Collins took the stand in his trial and denied shooting at the Botelhos. He testified that he had gone to the Botelhos' home to urge his friend Joel to control his younger brother and said as he and several others were walking on a driveway to the Botelho home in the early morning darkness, two shots were fired toward him.

Joel Botelho was living on Hawaii island but was in Kaneohe on the night of his death to celebrate his 27th birthday with his family.

Collins and Joel Botelho both played on the Castle High School football team on which Botelho was a star quarterback.

During the trial and the reading of the verdict, family and friends of Collins and Botelho sat across the aisle from each other in the courtroom.

Nonohe Botelho, Joel's mother, cried when the verdict was read.

"We just wanted our sons Joel and Leon to be vindicated as they were protecting us that night," Nonohe Botelho said after the verdict.

She said it's been an emotional case for her and her family, the community and her son's friends and teammates. "We're just very relieved and just very thankful to the jury that they made the right decision in this case," she said. 

Sentencing is scheduled for March 5.

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