Legal expert: One witness stands out of the 70 in the Kealoha mailbox trial

Updated: Jun. 21, 2019 at 6:09 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - In all, 70 people took the stand in the 16-day Kealoha corruption trial.

The breakdown: 58 for the government, 12 for the defense, with three testifying more than once.

But HNN legal analyst Ken Lawson said one stood out.

“Grandma was the most important witness," Lawson said, referring to Florence Puana ― Katherine Kealoha’s 99-year old grandmother.

He said Puana brought emotion to the case.

Florence Puana, 99, uses a magnifying glass to read documents during her recorded deposition in...
Florence Puana, 99, uses a magnifying glass to read documents during her recorded deposition in the mailbox trial. (Image: Hawaii News Now)

“In all these stories you’re going to have a good guy and a bad guy,” he said.

Federal prosecutors say Katherine Kealoha manipulated her grandmother and stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from her, starting a family feud.

In the trial, Kealoha is accused of framing Puana’s son, Gerard Puana, for the theft of the Kealohas’ mailbox on June 21, 2013.

The crime, prosecutors argue, would discredit him in the upcoming civil trial between the two sides.

Kealoha’s husband, ex-Police Chief Louis Kealoha, and three officers ― Bobby Nguyen, Derek Hahn and Gordon Shiraishi ― are accused of helping cover it all up and then lying to federal agents about it.

Florence Puana recorded her testimony ahead of the trial because she was too sick to take the stand. The recording was played for the jury on day nine.

“Grandma was the star, simple as that, grandma brought it home,” said Lawson.

The defense put witnesses on who said Gerard Puana had a temper and engaged in bad behavior as a result of the family dispute.

Surveillance video from the Kealohas’ Kahala home show Puana driving by and throwing coffee at their driveway in 2011.

The jury of seven men and five women also heard about forged trust documents, bank statements, and a made-up person named Alison Lee Wong, who prosecutors describe as Katherine Kealoha’s alias.

Hand writing experts, computer forensics experts and mailbox installation techniques were also presented.

One key witness for the Kealohas may have actually damaged their defense.

The couple’s longtime civil attorney, Kevin Sumida took the stand to emphasize that a state jury exonerated them in the civil trial.

But suspicion he lied on the stand about reviewing his records during a recess is why, for the first time, trial video from inside Hawaii federal court was publicly released.

So many witnesses and exhibits, and Hawaii could know by the end of next week if the government convinced the jury or if the defense was able to cast doubt.

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