Two Native Hawaiian men have been found guilty of a hate crime for the 2014 vicious beating of a white man in a remote Maui village.
Prosecutors alleged at trial this month that Kaulana Alo-Kaonohi and Levi Aki Jr. were motivated by Christopher Kunzelman’s race when they punched and kicked him and beat him with a shovel in Kahakuloa village, where he had purchased a fixer-upper.
US District Judge J. Michael Seabright ordered the pair jailed Thursday pending their sentencing on March 2. They each face up to 10 years in prison.
The killers’ family members and supporters cried in the courtroom, and Alo-Kaonohi’s 3-year-old son said, “God bless you, Daddy.”
Alo-Kaonohi and Aki were indicted by a federal grand jury in December 2020 on hate-crime charges after the Justice Department decided to prosecute the 6-year-old case.
Kunzelman suffered a concussion, two broken ribs, and injuries to his head and stomach in the attack, prosecutors said.
Alo-Kaonohi previously pleaded no contest to felony assault in state court and was sentenced to probation, while Aki copped no contest to terroristic threatening and landed probation and nearly 200 days in jail.
Kunzelman had slammed those sentences as too lenient, saying at the time, “Justice, in this case, is not probation.”
The federal trial was held separately to determine if the men were guilty of a hate crime.
Local lawyers say they’ve never heard of the federal government prosecuting Native Hawaiians for hate crimes before this case.
Lawyers for Alo-Kaonohi and Aki argued that the assault was not a hate crime because it was not motivated by race but rather by Kunzelman’s entitled and disrespectful attitude.
The men were upset that Kunzelman cut locks to village gates, their lawyers said. Kunzelman said he did so because residents were locking him in and out while he was fixing up his new home. He testified that he wanted to provide the village with better locks and distribute keys to residents.
Kunzelman testified that while Alo-Kaonohi and Aki beat him, they told him no white people would ever live in Kahakuloa village and that he had the wrong skin color. Still, he acknowledged that’s not heard in a video recorded during the attack.
The victim had installed cameras on his vehicle, which were on during the attack. The vehicle was parked under the house and recorded images of what was happening downstairs, including Aki pacing with a shovel on his shoulder. The video only captured audio from the assault, which took place upstairs.
Lawyers for Alo-Kaonohi and Aki told jurors the video shows that they didn’t use any racial slurs.
In the video, Aki is heard saying, “You’s a haole, eh,” using a Hawaiian word that can mean foreign and white person. Defense lawyers said he didn’t use the word in a derogatory way.
Kunzelman testified that he and his wife decided to move to the “serene and beautiful” Maui from Scottsdale, Arizona, after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Kunzelman and his family have since moved to Puerto Rico.
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