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In first ruling on TMT arrests, judge finds 4 kupuna not guilty of obstruction

Published: Aug. 6, 2021 at 9:56 AM HST|Updated: Aug. 6, 2021 at 6:00 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In the first ruling on Thirty Meter Telescope arrests, a Hilo judge on Friday found four kupuna not guilty of obstructing Mauna Kea Access Road.

The four defendants — Marie Alohalani Brown, Maxine Kahaulelio, Ranette Robinson and Kelii W. Ioane — were among 38 arrested in July 2019 while protesting construction of the TMT.

Hilo District Judge Kanani Laubach said the state failed to meet its burden since the evidence showed the wide load trucks that were on Mauna Kea Access Road did not have permits so there was no obstruction.

“Evidence that Mauna Kea Access Road was closed or restricted to the public coupled with no permits equals no obstruction,” said Laubach.

“The state has failed to meet their burden beyond a reasonable doubt as to the element of obstruction,” she added.

Brown says what she did was right.

“I get emotional at good news and this was extremely good news,” said defendant Marie Alohalani Brown. “I am thrilled for the four of us and I’m grateful to our lawyers. This is justice.”

“The Mauna is sacred and what is happening is horrendous,” she added.

The charge was a petty misdemeanor and the kupuna faced fines and up to 30 days in prison.

The rest of the kupuna will have their verdicts in groups, and attorneys said they will ask the judge to dismiss the rest of the cases.

“It speaks volumes about the state of the evidence and it affirms what I’ve always believed that these are not criminals,” said attorney Moanikeala Crowell.

The kupuna and their attorneys said the government blocked them and other Native Hawaiians from practicing their religion and culture on Mauna Kea, but prosecutors called it a blockade against TMT’s equipment with tents and Hawaiian elders in chairs.

The state says TMT had all necessary permit and will continue to pursue the pending cases.

“During the trials of related defendants, the state presented evidence that TMT obtained all necessary permits to move equipment up the mountain,” said Gary H. Yamashiroya, special assistant to the state Attorney General.

“It remains a crime to block a public highway, and the state will vigorously pursue the pending cases against the remaining defendants.”

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