Trial begins in Chinatown gang murder case
Trial began Monday for two men charged in what prosecutors describe as a "gangland killing" in Chinatown more than three years ago.
24-year-old Iosefa Pasene and 27-year-old Zorro Rye sat side by side in Judge Richard Pollack's courtroom. Both men are from San Francisco and both are charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of 35-year-old Joseph Peneueta in Chinatown.
It was a dramatic scene in the early morning hours of March 28, 2009 at the corner of River and Pauahi Streets. The prosecution said Rye and Pasene fired 18 shots at the victim.
"Pasene, the man with the assault rifle, runs up to the body and he straddles it," said prosecutor Rodney Veary. "He takes his rifle, he points it down and empties the clip."
Veary told the jury the shooting may be a result of a rivalry between Samoan gangs in San Francisco and at Kuhio Park Terrace in Kalihi, where the victim lived.
Veary said several eyewitnesses can place Rye and Pasene at the scene of the crime.
Defense attorney Thomas Otake challenged the prosecution's take on eyewitness accounts. Otake represents Pasene and said police responded to the scene within three minutes and all statement taken at the scene didn't point to his client.
"Not a single person that night at the scene; not a single person at the hospital; not a single person who now professes to be witnesses told the police that Iosefa fired the gun that night," said Otake.
Each side agreed that Pasene and the victim got into a confrontation shortly before the shooting. The prosecution said Pasene threatened the victim.
"And Pasene says to him, 'Where we come from we don't fight -- we shoot. And when we shoot, we kill,'" said Veary.
The defense said it was the victim who threatened Pasene and left to pick up a friend to retaliate.
The prosecution presented the jury a timeline. Witnesses place Pasene and Rye at the scene just before 4 a.m. armed with shotguns.
But Rye's defense attorney, John Schum, said his client was nowhere near the murder scene at the time of the shooting. Cell phone records and Rye's girlfriend said the 27-year-old was home at the time.
"The fact of the matter is at 4 a.m. and for the rest of the morning, Mr. Rye is in Pearl City, in his residence, in his bedroom with his girlfriend," said Schum.
The prosecution said it has video surveillance evidence of the defendants in a getaway car that was found burning in a pineapple field in Wahiawa after the shooting.
The video was shot by a task force monitoring gang activity in Hawaii.
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