Victim of Maui beating criticizes authorities for not pursuing hate crime charges

Updated: Oct. 18, 2019 at 6:03 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The man who was brutally beaten by his neighbors on Maui five years ago criticized police and prosecutors for not pursue the case as a hate crime.

“The only reason they attacked me was the color of my skin," said Chris Kunzelman.

“They even say it at one point it’s nothing personal, you just have the wrong effing color skin.”

Kunzelman suffered broken ribs and a huge gash when he was hit with a shovel in the 2014 beating, which was recorded by his security camera.

One of the men, Kaulana Alo Kaonohi, pleaded no contest to assault and served a year in prison.

The other, Levi Aki, pleaded no contest to terroristic threatening and got credit for six months in prison.

Had the men been charged and convicted of a hate crime, their jail sentence could have been doubled.

But hate crime charges are rare in Hawaii. According to the state Attorney General’s Office, only two or three hate crime enhancements are used each year statewide.

Maui had the fewest with only two in the past 16 years.

Legal experts said part of the reason there are so few hate crimes reported here is that adding a hate crime charge to an already existing case could make that case more difficult to win.

“It’s hard to show a crime is a hate crime because you have show an intentional conduct or an intent by the alleged perpetrator to target someone because of their race or religion or gender selection," said Ronette Kawakami, associate dean of the University of Hawaii Law School.

Kawakami said that if the men went to the house because the victim was white, the case would look more like a hate crime.

But it would be hard to prove if they had any other reason for the assault ― such as anger that Kunzelman bought the house in a foreclosure.

“It’s a shameful, horrible, brutal offense. It’s a crime regardless of whether it’s a hate crime or not,” she said.

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