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Pflueger asks appeals court to dismiss manslaughter charges

By Ken Kobayashi

LAST UPDATED: 11:45 a.m. HST, May 11, 2011

The Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals heard arguments this morning on retired car dealer James Pflueger’s challenge to manslaughter charges brought against him for the deaths of seven people killed after Kaloko Dam breached more than five years ago.

The three-judge panel of the appeals court will rule later on Pflueger’s contention that the criminal charges should be dismissed.

Pflueger is appealing the decision by Kauai Circuit Judge Randal Valenciano, who refused in January last year to dismiss the charges involving the breach on March 14, 2006.

The criminal trial proceedings were suspended pending the outcome of the appeal.

Pflueger’s attorney, William McCorriston, argued that the evidence presented to the Kauai grand jury that returned the manslaughter indictment did not support the charges.

McCorriston also argued the manslaughter prosecution violates Pflueger’s rights against double jeopardy because his client was convicted in 2003 of illegal grading at the reservoir.

Mark Bennett, the former attorney general who handled the state’s prosecution, contended that the evidence supported the indictment.

He also argued that the illegal grading conviction did not cover Pflueger filing in the dam’s safety valve spillway several years earlier.

Bennett, now in private practice, represented the state without pay at the hearing.

Pflueger, who did not attend the hearing, also faces federal tax charges against him, his son Alan and others.

Pflueger is accused of not reporting profit of a California land deal and a conspiracy of reporting personal income from the dealership as business expenses.

The federal trial on the tax charges is scheduled for next year.

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