A Circuit Court jury is being asked to determine whether the beating of a man who made disparaging remarks about Samoan women was justified.
Vavao Kurtz, 29, is on trial for first- and second-degree assault for allegedly punching and kicking Florencio Bermudez on Feb. 3 at Ala Moana Beach Park.
Kurtz’s lawyer, Edward Harada, says Bermudez provoked Kurtz into a fight and that Kurtz did not intend to cause injury.
Bermudez, 53, lost his right eye in the assault.
Both men were homeless and living in the park. Bermudez was born in Guatemala and refers to himself as "the black man of the park." Kurtz was born in American Samoa.
Emilio Jacinto, another homeless man living in the park, said he and Kurtz were sitting at a picnic table having lunch when Bermudez dropped by.
He said Bermudez was boasting about his sexual prowess, comparing Samoan and Filipino women using explicit and degrading descriptions.
Jacinto was born in the Philippines.
Kurtz said he felt Bermudez’s remarks were insulting to both him and Jacinto. He said he told Bermudez to shut up and leave but that Bermudez ignored him.
"He keeps going and laughing," Kurtz said.
He later told a Honolulu police detective he was so upset, "my head was already blowing like a teakettle."
Two days earlier, Kurtz said, Bermudez repeatedly taunted him about having sex with a Samoan woman whom Bermudez referred to as "your sister."
Kurtz said he stood up from a picnic table and confronted Bermudez. He said he punched him once in the head, only after it appeared Bermudez was about to assault him. He said he was aiming for Bermudez’s mouth.
Jacinto said Kurtz punched Bermudez with a right hook, then a left, which dropped Bermudez to the ground. He said he saw Bermudez covering his right eye and viscous fluid dripping from it.
Kurtz said he then kicked Bermudez once on the backside after Bermudez had fallen to the ground.
"I wanted to apologize right then and there, but my anger won’t let me," he said.
Jacinto said Kurtz kicked Bermudez at least twice in the head and once between the legs from behind.
Bermudez said Kurtz hit him 20 times, all over his body, until he got tired.
He appeared visibly agitated on the witness stand and at times appeared not interested in answering the prosecutor’s questions, responding in Spanish, through an interpreter, and in broken, heavily accented English. He says his injuries affected his speech.
When Deputy Prosecutor Rina Chung asked him where on his body Kurtz hit him, Bermudez said, "Ask him why he punched my eye out."
Bermudez then turned to the judge and spread open his right eye lid to show that he has no eyeball there.
He said he is afraid of Kurtz because of his size. Bermudez said he is 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighs 160 pounds. Kurtz is 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighs more than 200 pounds.
Bermudez called Kurtz a racist who attacked him because he is black.