Witness’s ‘intuitiveness’ credited in recovery

WAILUKU – After a Lahaina man was found guilty last week of operating a stolen truck, a deputy prosecutor gave credit to witnesses, including a Kaanapali hotel security officer, whose “intuitiveness” led to the discovery and recovery of the vehicle.

In addition to the felony charge of unauthorized control of a propelled vehicle, Nicholas Burns, 36, was found guilty of driving without a license. A 2nd Circuit Court jury returned the verdicts Wednesday afternoon.

“The key issue in this case boils down to credibility,” Deputy Prosecutor Jeffery Temas said during closing arguments to jurors Wednesday morning.

He argued that Burns lied on the witness stand when he said he borrowed the truck from a friend’s uncle.

Instead, Temas said it was reasonable to believe security officer Charles “Mike” Casicas, who testified that Burns admitted stealing the truck from Kahului.

The blue 2004 Dodge Dakota quad cab pickup was reported stolen the morning of Sept. 28 from Kimo’s Rent A Car in Kahului. Two days later, at 7:40 a.m. Sept. 30, Burns had parked the truck when he was approached by Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club security officers for taking bags of recyclables that the hotel was saving for schools.

The truck had no front license plate and had been reversed into a beach access parking stall so hedges obscured the rear license plate, Temas said.

Burns first said that the truck was his, then said it belonged to a friend. Having a hunch the truck might be stolen, Casicas asked Burns if it was. When Burns said no, Casicas told Burns, “This is Sunday, not a good day to lie.”

Other security officers, including Jeffrey Donia, were escorting Burns to the security office so he could be issued a trespassing notice when he walked back to Casicas and said, “I’m sorry, I did steal this truck from Kahului,” Casicas testified.

Burns denied saying he had stolen the truck. He testified he had gotten the truck about mid-morning Sept. 28 from a friend called “Q,” who owed Burns $200 and said he could borrow the truck for a week in exchange for the debt. Burns said that he met the friend and his uncle at Queen Ka’ahumanu Center to get the truck.

Defense attorney James Brumbaugh said that Burns had a defense to the felony charge because he didn’t know the truck was stolen.

Burns testified that his tools were in the truck because he had driven it to the Kahana Ridge job site where he was working as a journeyman carpenter. He said he had been working at the job site in the previous weeks, earning $10,000.

But Kirk Hunt, owner of Hunt Construction, testified that Burns had worked for the company for only five hours on June 29 and was paid about $100 cash.

Brumbaugh said Burns “no doubt embellished his testimony to be the person he wanted to be – and that’s a carpenter who’s employed, making money, a self-sustaining member of society.”

“We all want to be that,” Brumbaugh said.

He said that Burns’ work record wasn’t important.

But Temas said, “When you lie about the little things, you’re going to lie about the big things.”

After the verdicts were announced, Temas credited the commitment of witnesses including Hunt, a last-minute rebuttal witness who “immediately agreed to testify” after being located by Deputy Prosecutor Tracy Jones.

Temas said “testimony from each witness was compelling, in particular the testimony from Mike Casicas, a retired Maui Police Department officer who now works at Marriott.”

“Mike used his intuitiveness to think out of the box and take an extra step to ask defendant questions, which led to the discovery and recovery of the stolen vehicle,” Temas said.

Burns is being held at the Maui Community Correctional Center on cash-only bail of $50,000. He is scheduled to be sentenced April 22.

He is awaiting trial in another case on charges of third-degree promotion of a dangerous drug, possessing drug paraphernalia and three counts of fourth-degree theft.

According to the Hawaii Criminal Justice Data Center, Burns’ criminal history includes 56 convictions for offenses including second-degree burglary, unauthorized control of a propelled vehicle, identity theft, theft, third-degree promotion of a dangerous drug and possessing drug paraphernalia.

Judge Richard Bissen presided over the trial.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.