Judge OKs recorded testimony from 99-year old key witness in Kealoha case

Updated: Apr. 5, 2019 at 5:36 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A key witness in the case against the Kealohas will be deposed ahead of the May trial because the 99-year-old is in failing health.

Florence Puana, former deputy Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha’s grandmother, had heart surgery this week and still needs another operation.

And on Friday, U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright ruled that the 99-year old can have her testimony pre-recorded in case she cannot make it to court for the trial.

The government considers Puana a key witness, and described her testimony in court documents as “central to establishing one of the motives behind the charged conspiracy.”

Kealoha, her husband ― ex police chief Louis Kealoha ― and three police officers, Bobby Nguyen, Derek Hahn and Gordon Shiraishi, are all charged with conspiracy and obstruction in the case whose trial is set to kick off next month.

The government filed the motion to have Puana deposed on camera after the 99-year-old was hospitalized on March 23.

One surgery was already done this week, but according to the federal prosecutors, another surgery is being scheduled.

“It is an unusual thing,” said Eric Seitz, attorney for the Puana family. “Typically you’re not allowed to take depositions in criminal cases except, as the judge said, in exceptional circumstances.”

Puana told Hawaii News Now in 2017 that she was looking forward to the trial, which has faced delays because of motions from the defense.

“I want it to come out in the open so they really know what happened, nobody knows what happened," Puana told HNN.

She accuses the Kealohas of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from her and her son, Katherine Kealoha’s uncle.

The government contends that money was the motive behind the alleged crimes because the Puanas and the Kealohas were embroiled in a bitter family feud.

Federal prosecutors also say the Kealohas, once a law enforcement power couple, framed the uncle for a crime he didn’t commit ― the theft of their mailbox.

The deposition is scheduled for April 15, but the location has not yet been determined.

The defendants are expected to be there, with their attorneys allowed to cross-examine Puana.

“Oh, of course, it’s going to be grueling,” said Seitz about the deposition, which is expected to last most of the day, "But she’s taken the position that she wants to cooperate and be a part of this and hopefully this will enable her to do that.”

The recording is for preservation purposes only, meaning if Puana is able to take the stand in May the recording will not be needed for the jury.

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