Tight courtroom security for men accused of gambling-related beating death

Published: Apr. 11, 2011 at 4:54 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 12, 2011 at 8:33 PM HST
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Alexander Nguyen
Alexander Nguyen

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Four men accused of a deadly beating stemming from a dispute at an illegal gambling establishment in Chinatown made their initial appearances at Honolulu District Court Monday.

The homicide has had a few twists and turns. The suspects originally told police they found their friend beaten at Moanalua Community Park and drove him to the hospital.

But investigators say that was all a lie, and that the suspects eventually confessed to repeatedly punching and kicking the victim at 925-C Maunakea Street in Chinatown.

Maauga Imoa, 24, Manu Tonga, 21, and Sione Vulangi, 26, entered District Judge Leslie Hayashi's packed courtroom with seven state deputy sheriffs providing security. Hearing their family members sobbing in the gallery seemed to emotionally affect the men charged with murder.

Police say the suspects are security personnel at various illegal gambling establishments. They're accused of savagely beating a 42-year-old male employee, identified in court documents as Duc Pham, because he allegedly stole money from the Maunakea Street game room.

According to a police affidavit, Imoa told investigators, "Pham was on his knees begging for forgiveness when he was assaulted until he lost consciousness."

"Pham was left unresponsive in the gambling establishment for several hours," and they "did not seek medical attention until Pham began to foam at the mouth," the affidavit said.

Once Imoa, Tonga, Vulangi and their supporters cleared the courtroom, the fourth suspect was escorted in. Sheriffs say Alexander Nguyen, 31, is in protective custody and is being kept separate from the other three suspects.

Officers executed a search warrant on the alleged gambling house on Maunakea Street, and say they found a significant amount of blood on the walls and floor.

When the victim was finally dropped off at the Queen's Medical Center Emergency Room, police say he was "unresponsive, had major swelling and bruising to his face, was bleeding from the back of his head, and his eyes were swollen shut."

An autopsy found that he died from cranial-cerebral injuries due to blunt force trauma.

Each suspect is charged with second-degree murder and kidnapping, and is being held in lieu of $1 million bail.

The deputy public defender who handled Monday's initial court appearance asked the judge to reduce the bail to $250,000. The judge denied his request.

A preliminary hearing is tentatively set for Wednesday.

Copyright 2011 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.