Mar. 3—Two men convicted of a federal hate crime for the “brutal” beating of a white man who tried to move into their Maui neighborhood in 2014 were sentenced to 78 months and 50 months in prison Thursday for their respective roles in the assault.
Two men convicted of a federal hate crime for the “brutal” beating of a white man who tried to move into their Maui neighborhood in 2014 were sentenced to 78 months and 50 months in prison Thursday for their respective roles in the assault.
Federal prosecutors asked US District Judge J. Michael Seabright to sentence Kaulana Alo-Kaonohi, 32, to 109 months for his history of violent felony arrests and “the brutality of the attack” on Christopher Kunzelman on Feb. 13, 2014, in Kahakuloa.
The government asked for 78 months for Levi Aki Jr., 33, who prosecutors did not believe to be as guilty as Alo-Kaonohi, according to video footage and audio recordings of the attack.
Seabright sentenced Alo-Kaonohi to 78 months and Aki to 50 months. Aki got credit for seven months served in state prison on Maui in connection with state offenses stemming from the Kunzelman attack. They were convicted of a hate crime Nov. 22 following a two-week trial.
Kunzelman, from Scottsdale, Ariz., bought a house in the small Maui town outside of Wailuku for $175,000 with his wife and three children after his wife was forced into retirement by a multiple sclerosis diagnosis. On Feb. 13, 2014, he was unpacking his belongings with his uncle when Alo-Kaonohi and Aki showed up.
The pair, who had never met Kunzelman, entered his property and demanded that he pack his things and leave, threatening to “tie (him) up and drag (him)” and make him “go missing” if he didn’t. When Kunzelman told the duo he owned the home, Alo-Kaonohi dragged his index finger along Kunzelman’s jaw and told him, “Your skin is the wrong f—- color,” according to court documents.
Aki then picked up a roofing shovel and handed it to Alo-Kaonohi, who hit Kunzelman in the head, opening a gash that left him bloodied. After Kunzelman went upstairs to pack, Alo-Kaonohi followed him and attacked him again.
Alo-Kaonohi was the “primary instigator and aggressor” who grabbed Kunzelman by the “hair, bent him over the staircase railing, and repeatedly punched him in the head so forcefully that the railing detached from the staircase,” according to a sentencing memo filed Feb. 24 by Christopher J. Perras, special litigation counsel with the US Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.
“I fear upon his (Alo-Kaonohi’s) release, this violent felon is a danger to me, my family and the general public,” said Kunzelman, speaking in court before Seabright’s sentence. “The move to Maui was a dream. … Because of this man … a nightmare.”
Since the attack, Kunzelman told Seabright’s court that “the hate crime messed me up” and that he wanted “justice for myself and the other victims.” Nearly a decade later, Kunzelman said he suffers from psychological issues tied to the attack that has cost him professionally and personally. He has been separated from his wife for a year.
“He (Alo-Kaonohi) has done horrible things before,” Kunzelman told the court Thursday.
During the second attack on Feb. 13, 2014, Aki head-butted Kunzelman and hit him in the face with the shovel, causing a concussion and forcing him to lose consciousness.
Kunzelman woke up to the men kicking him on the ground, where they broke two of his ribs. While he was down, the men told him, “No white man is ever going to live here,” according to federal prosecutors, before Aki used the shovel to smash out the windows of Kunzelman’s Land Rover while he and his uncle tried to escape.
Seabright noted the irony of a doctor testifying at trial that the blows to Kunzelman’s head could have killed him, because Kunzelman had a gun at the time and decided against using it. Kunzelman could have shot and killed Alo-Kaonohi and Aki and “been within his rights to do so,” said Seabright.
Instead, he chose to try de-escalating the situation.
“He wasn’t willing to do that even though he was beaten senseless. He had the means to protect himself, and he didn’t do it,” said Seabright. “I certainly hope you understand … the severe harm you’ve caused others.”
Seabright acknowledged the crowded courtroom of friends and family and some of the work Alo-Kaonohi has done to reform his behavior in the nine years since the incident, like being sober since 2014 and excelling as a carpenter.
However, Seabright noted Alo-Kaonohi’s history of arrests for violent attacks on innocent people, including three felony assault arrests since the Kunzelman beating, including a July 20, 2014, incident three days after law enforcement attempted to arrest Alo-Kaonohi for the Kunzelman attack .
In that incident, Alo-Kaonohi was arrested for false-cracking a white man as he stood at a Maui bar.
Perras told the court that Alo-Kaonohi had a pattern of “completely unprovoked attacks on innocent people.”
“He (Alo-Kaonohi) kept doing the same thing, over and over again,” said Perras.
Alo-Kaonohi’s attorney, federal public defender Salina M. Kanai, told Seabright’s court that Alo-Kaonohi is “not the same person” he was nearly a decade ago when the offense occurred. She noted the people in the courtroom and told Seabright “he has tremendous support not because they condone his actions. They support the person he has become.”
Speaking in court, Alo-Kaonohi, dressed in a white prison-issued jumpsuit, fought through tears to tell Seabright that he had “some anger issues at the time” and he was sorry for “putting my hands on Christopher Kunzelman.”
He asked Seabright for mercy so he wouldn’t lose any more time with his young son. Alo-Kaonohi has maintained he is not a racist.
“You were a racist on that day. Whether beyond that you’re a racist… I don’t know,” said Seabright.
Aki’s attorney, Lynn E. Panagakos, told Seabright that the attack was “completely out of character” for him. Aki’s motto in life is to “make nice,” said Panagakos, and “that’s how he lives” now.
“He had (done nothing) like this before. He’s had nothing like this after,” said Panagakos.
Aki told the court that he’s “beyond ashamed” for the attack on Kunzelman and his own “immature, unwise, hurtful words and actions.”
“I’m extremely and sincerely sorry for all I’ve done,” said Aki, speaking in court. “No one deserves to be put through that.”
Perras reminded the court that when originally confronted by Maui police, Aki denied the attack.
“He lied to them over and over again,” said Perras. “Mr. Aki lied about everything.”
When shown video evidence, he called Kunzelman a “dumb haole” and blamed him for trying to change Kahakuloa, said Perras.
Seabright acknowledged that Aki was not as guilty for the assault as Alo-Kaonohi and did not have any history of violent or felony criminal offenses, and agreed with Panagakos that the incident was “out of character for you.”
“That said, this was an extremely brutal beating … that went on for 15 minutes … that you could have stopped,” said Seabright.
Tearful supporters shouted well wishes and “I love you” to Alo-Kaonohi and Aki as they were escorted from the courtroom. Both asked Seabright to request the Bureau of Prisons to send them to the Federal Correctional Institution, Safford in Arizona where they could enroll in vocational training.