Some jurors in the federal trial of a man accused of stealing the Honolulu police chief’s mailbox said their jury duty abruptly ended just as things were getting interesting.
They said they were disappointed when it ended in a mistrial last week after Chief Louis Kealoha testified about the defendant’s criminal past. Kealoha was the second witness on the trial’s first day. Gerard Puana is accused of stealing the mailbox last year. He’s the uncle of Kealoha’s wife, Katherine. A new trial is scheduled for May.
“We were so disappointed. We wanted to go through all the way,” said juror Shaunee Pascua. “Because it looked like it was going to be an interesting case.”
Fellow juror Janya Kekaula said she agreed with Puana’s public defender that Kealoha intentionally caused a mistrial to protect his wife. Federal Public Defender Alexander Silvert said the Kealoha’s set Puana up in order to discredit him in a civil lawsuit involving a family, financial dispute.
The mistrial was declared soon after the case provided glimpses into the chief’s private life: He testified that he was on his way to go surfing the morning he discovered the mailbox was missing but decided to wait until he returned to tell his wife about it, who reported it to police. He testified about times Puana came to the Kealoha home unannounced and behaving strangely. Once, Puana was sweating profusely and had a bent cigarette hanging out his mouth, Kealoha testified.
“I think it was most definitely done on purpose,” Kekaula said of the chief’s answer to questions by a federal prosecutor about how Kealoha could identify Puana in blurry surveillance footage. Kealoha’s response that mentioned Puana’s previous burglary charge seemed “totally out of the blue,” she said.
Another juror, Devin Gomes, said Kealoha’s response sounded reasonable to him and he was surprised that it caused a mistrial. “I don’t know the chief personally so I can’t say,” Gomes said. “I don’t have any type of law background about what you can or can’t say.”
Silvert said Kealoha should have known better than to bring up that detail to cast doubt on his client’s credibility. A department spokeswoman said federal prosecutors have advised Kealoha not to comment.
The jurors agreed that the surveillance footage was too unclear to identify the man seen hauling the box into a car. “It didn’t look like him at all,” Pascua said.
“It was kind of hard to look at the defendant and look at the video and say yes, that’s him or no, that’s not him,” Gomes said.
It seemed peculiar to Pascua and Kekaula that the man in the video seemed to have an easy time removing the mailbox from its pedestal. It seemed as if the box had been previously unscrewed form the post, Pascua said.
“It only took him close to 20 seconds to take it off,” Kekaula said. “This guy didn’t look like no Hulk Hogan.”
Based on what she saw, Kekaula said she likely would have found Puana not guilty: “I think someone hired that person to steal the mailbox.”
Gomes said it was too soon to draw conclusions.
But they agreed that the family drama didn’t really interest them. A trial is scheduled for this month in state court for the civil suit filed by Puana and his 95-year-old mother — Katherine Kealoha’s grandmother — accusing her of stealing their money. She denies their allegations.
“We weren’t there to worry about that,” Gomes said. “That was something totally different.”