Two Native Hawaiian men are scheduled to be sentenced Thursday for a federal hate crime in the brutal beating of a white man who tried to move into their remote fishing village, The Associated Press (AP) reports.
A jury convicted Kaulana Alo-Kaonohi and Levi Aki Jr. in November after finding the two were motivated by Christopher Kunzelman’s race when they punched, kicked, and used a shovel to beat him in 2014, according to the report.
Kunzelman, who had a gun but decided not to use it, was left with injuries including a concussion, two broken ribs, and head and abdominal trauma, prosecutors said.
Kunzelman and his wife Lori purchased a house in the village sight-unseen for $175,000, wanting to leave Scottsdale, Arizona, to live near the ocean after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
“We loved Maui. We loved the people,” said Lori, explaining how her husband planned to fix up the house himself.
The attack happened when he began to do that during his first night at the house.
“It was obviously a hate crime from the very beginning,” Lori said. “The whole time they’re saying things like, ‘You have the wrong skin color. No ‘haole’ is ever going to live in our neighborhood.’”
“Haole” is a derogatory term for a white person.
Use of the racial term against Kunzelman can be heard in a video recorded by cameras on Kunzelman’s vehicle. “You’s a haole, eh,” Aki is heard saying.
Prosecutors during the trial stated village residents said things like “this is a Hawaiian village” and “the only thing coming from the outside is electricity” to the Kunzelmans.
When Aki spoke to police after the assault, he referred to Kunzelman as a “rich Haole guy,” a “dumb haole,” and a “typical haole.”
Kunzelman came to the village saying he wanted to help residents improve their homes and boost property values, according to AP.
But Kunzelman began cutting locks to village gates because residents were locking him in and out, testifying that he wanted to provide the village with better locks and distribute keys to residents.
Aki and Alo-Kaonohi were prosecuted in state court for the assault. Alo-Kaonohi was sentenced to probation. Aki was sentenced to probation and roughly 200 days in jail.
Alo-Kaonohi was also sentenced to a year in prison for an assault at a Maui bar soon after the Kunzelman attack which left the new victim with brain damage.
For the federal hate crime, prosecutors are asking for a sentence of about nine years for Alo-Kaonohi and six-and-a-half years for Aki, AP notes.
The Kunzelmans still own the Kahakuloa home but don’t live there.
“We couldn’t even sell it to anybody because it’s not safe,” Lori said. “It’s not safe because of the animosity that’s there.”
Watch KHON2 News’ Oct 2019 coverage of the story: