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Hilo jury convicts man in hammer attack

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 1:59 a.m. HST, Jun 15, 2013

HILO >> A former mortuary owner has been convicted of trying to kill a Hilo coin dealer with a hammer.

A Hilo Circuit Court jury on Thursday convicted Robert Diego, 70, of attempted murder and robbery in the attack two years ago on Donald Nigro, 67, at Nigro’s apartment. Sentencing is set for Aug. 9.

Diego also faces a separate trial Oct. 21 on charges of attempted first-degree murder and criminal solicitation of first-degree murder. Prosecutors say that twice while Diego was in jail in 2011, he tried to hire a hit man to kill Nigro.

Defense attorney William Heflin told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald that the verdict surprised him and that he will appeal.

“I think in this particular case, I had a lot of evidence that Mr. Nigro was not very truthful, and as I said from the beginning, this is a two-person case. There were only two people in the room, my guy and Mr. Nigro,” Heflin said.

Nigro, who owns Antiques & Coins, told police Diego offered to sell him rare Hawaiian coins but wanted privacy for the transaction.

Nigro picked up Diego at Hilo Shopping Center and took him to Nigro’s apartment. Nigro told police that once inside the apartment, Diego pulled a hammer from a cloth shopping bag and hit him, unprovoked, numerous times.

Diego claimed that Nigro took him to the apartment instead of the store and groped him. He said he acted in self-defense.

Nigro’s cries for help got the attention of neighbors, who called 911.

During Diego’s trial, jurors viewed police photos showing Nigro lying in a pool of blood on his apartment floor. He suffered a skull fracture and spent three nights in a hospital.

Nigro sat in the gallery to hear the verdict.

“I’m very happy,” he said afterward.

Diego is the former owner of Memorial Mortuary. He pleaded no contest in 2006 to stealing from pre-need funeral plan funds and served two months in jail. The business closed afterward.

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