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Judge denies murder suspect’s demand for new lawyer

July 17, 2014 - 5:01am

A 35-year-old Hilo man accused of the shotgun slayings of his girlfriend and her mother told the judge Wednesday he wouldn’t return to court if represented by a public defender.

Hilo Circuit Judge Greg Nakamura denied a motion by Sean Ivan Masa Matsumoto to replace Deputy Public Defender Jeff Ng as counsel. Matsumoto faces charges of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, three other firearms offenses, and reckless endangering for the fatal shootings Feb. 11, 2013, of 45-year-old Rhonda Lynn Alohalani Ahu and her mother, 74-year-old Elaine Ahu, at their Waiakea Houselots home.

When asked by the judge why he wanted to replace Ng, Matsumoto replied, “Basically, I would like better representation other than the Public Defender’s office. If not, I will not be coming back to court.”

“What do you mean you won’t be coming back to court?” asked Nakamura.

“I feel that I’m not being represented,” Matsumoto replied.

“Your feeling is not enough,” Nakamura said. “You’ve got to tell me something more specific, other than a feeling.”

“Basically, he thinks I’m guilty. So how can I be represented by somebody who thinks that I’m guilty? … I also know there’s other, better representation out there for me, you know, court-appointed private attorneys.”

The judge told Matsumoto case law doesn’t give indigent criminal defendants the power to replace attorneys without showing good cause.

“I don’t really care what any of that says. I just want a different counsel,” Matsumoto said.

Nakamura again tried to explain Ng’s duties, which include presenting Matsumoto with a realistic appraisal of the state’s evidence against him. He also told Matsumoto, who has been denied bail and is being held in Hawaii Community Correctional Center, that a defense lawyer doesn’t have control over his client’s bail status.

Matsumoto said if he isn’t granted a court-appointed private lawyer, Wednesday’s hearing would be “the last time I’ll be coming to court.”

“OK,” Nakamura replied. “So if you seek to replace counsel without good cause …”

Matsumoto interrupted the judge again and Nakamura told him, “You can go right now.”

Matsumoto was then escorted from the courtroom by a sheriff’s deputy.

After the judge denied the motion, Ng informed him no further court dates were scheduled.

“We’ll just schedule another hearing and see if he shows up,” the judge said, and set the hearing for 8 a.m. Monday. No trial date has been set, although Matsumoto has been found fit to stand trial.

If convicted of the first-degree murder charge, which was filed because there is more than one victim, Matsumoto faces a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. A second-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life with the possibility of parole.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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