Honolulu attorney: Sykap case is “not a Perry Mason moment”

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The Honolulu district attorney’s office correctly laid murder and attempted murder charges against three officers involved in Iremamber Sykap’s fatal shooting, even without obtaining indictments from a grand jury, argued the office Thursday in court documents.

Geoffrey Thom faces second degree murder charges for shooting Sykap eight times in the back. Zachary Ah Nee and Christopher Fredeluces both face attempted murder charges for shooting in the sedan driven by Sykap.

The prosecutor’s response comes more than a week after defense attorneys for the three officers asked the Honolulu District Court to dismiss the felony cases.

The prosecutor’s office says the constitution gives it the ability to prosecute officers in court.

Honolulu District Attorney’s Office Steve Alm maintains that the constitution allows the office to pursue charges against officers in court. Cory Lum / Civil Beat / 2021

“The district court, like all courts and all lawyers, is bound to obey the law,” Honolulu Deputy District Attorney Christopher Van Marter wrote in the government’s response brief. “District courts are not empowered to remake the law or new divine theories that undermine, and in effect overrule, other provisions of the law. “

Prosecutors are expected to present evidence at a preliminary hearing on Tuesday in a bid to convince the court that there is probable cause to indict the officers. The court will also deal with the motion to dismiss the cases at the same time.

Thomas Otake, the lawyer representing Ah Nee who asked the court to close the cases, did not respond to messages Thursday afternoon.

The defendants now appear to be building their own case to counter the prosecutor’s arguments.

On Tuesday, Crystal Glendon, lawyer for Fredeluces, subpoenaed nine HPD employees to testify on behalf of Fredeluces at next week’s hearing.

These employees are Ofc. Chanel Prize, Ofc. Daniel Tuttle, Detective Dayle Morita, Ofc. Jessica Uehara, Detective John Demello, HPD Evidence Specialist Michael Lynch, Sgt. Rance Okano, Lieutenant Taro Nakamura and Staff Sgt. Guillaume Malina.

Prosecutor: the arguments are wrong

Van Marter wrote in a court note Thursday that a preliminary hearing is only one method prosecutors can use to lay charges.

But Otake and the other defense attorneys argue that state laws, several state Supreme Court cases, and court rules all indicate that prosecutors need an indictment in front of a large jury before bringing charges in court.

Otake also questioned the ability of prosecutors to prove probable cause in court if they were unable to convince a grand jury, made up of ordinary people and unqualified lawyers.

Van Marter hit back on Thursday, writing that state law does not prevail over the constitution.

In a footnote to the response brief, Van Marter cites a 2013 Hawaii Supreme Court case in which murder charges were laid against an accused after a grand jury refused to indict the individual.

3 HPD officers arriving for their first court appearance in Honolulu on Friday, June 25, 2021. Photo by CIvil Beat Ronen Zilberman.
The Honolulu prosecutor’s office said it was properly pursuing charges against three officers for the murder of Iremamber Sykap. From left to right, Zachary Ah Nee, Gregory Fredeluces and Geoffrey Thom. Ronen Zilberman / Civil Beat / 2021

He writes that it is not unprecedented to bring charges in court instead of a grand jury and argues that the defense arguments are “based on flawed legal analysis, misinterpretation of the law, surveillance of contrary authorities, misleading arguments and convoluted reasoning “.

“This is not a Perry Mason moment,” writes Van Marter, referring to the court drama of the 1950s.

Eve Hanan, a former defense lawyer and associate professor of criminal law at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, said prosecutors tend to present just enough evidence to grand juries to get an indictment. It is a legal strategy to prevent the defense from obtaining useful information later in legal proceedings.

In general, prosecutors always have the option of pursuing charges through other means, such as a second grand jury or a preliminary inquiry. However, she said it was rare for a prosecutor to file a complaint in court after being rejected by a grand jury.

“But then again, these cases of officer shootings are often rare in many ways,” Hanan said, noting the amount of evidence gathered during police shootings and the high-profile nature of these cases.

Bill Harrison, a prominent local defense attorney, does not think prosecutors are barred from going through preliminary hearing proceedings after failing to get an indictment from a grand jury and said the constitution gives prosecutors several options to pursue charges.

However, he notes that the state Supreme Court has yet to rule on the specific issue in this case.

“Historically, we look to the grand jury in cases like these,” Harrison said. “The question now becomes, ‘Does the prosecutor have to go to court to make a separate decision? This is an interesting question.

The preliminary hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Honolulu District Court.


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