Prosecutor: Extortion case boils down to greed
WAILUKU – A man who claimed he was defending himself from an angry group of tourists was found guilty of trying to extort money from them and assaulting one man with a rake during a confrontation in the Twin Falls area of Haiku last year.
A 2nd Circuit Court jury returned verdicts Tuesday, finding Jesse A. Nakooka, 37, of Haiku guilty of the lesser charge of third-degree attempted extortion, as well as second-degree assault, third-degree assault by mutual affray and third-degree assault.
He was found not guilty of harassment of one of the visitors, a cancer patient who testified she was shoved to the ground by Nakooka.
“This case is not complicated,” Deputy Prosecutor Jerrie Sheppard told jurors during closing arguments Monday. “In fact, it boils down to just one word, and that word is greed.”
The incident unfolded after a group of tourists from California returned from a 45-minute midday hike July 1, 2012, and found Nakooka’s chicken stand blocking in their car. Nakooka demanded $20 for parking on his land, the tourists said.
After Kalazetta Weaver gave $20 to Nakooka, he told her to “get your car out if you can,” Sheppard said.
She said Nakooka didn’t know that Weaver’s boyfriend, Riverside resident Nicholas Nottingham, was a truck driver. He managed to maneuver the car out of the tight spot. That’s when Nakooka moved a table in front of the car and put his children on the table while demanding an additional $60 – or $20 for each person in the group – the visitors testified.
Weaver testified that Nakooka told her she had three ways to leave – call a tow truck, call 911 or go home in a body bag. She began screaming, alerting others in the group of more than a dozen relatives and friends vacationing together.
Among them were Weaver’s parents, Steven and Tammy Weaver.
She and her daughter moved the table out of the way and Tammy Weaver was about to move the car when Nakooka jumped on the hood, Sheppard said.
After stepping out of the car, Tammy Weaver – a recovering cancer patient – was shoved to the ground by Nakooka as he ran toward Nottingham, Sheppard said.
Nottingham testified his hat and glasses were knocked off when he was punched by Nakooka before others in the group grabbed him in a “bear hug.”
Another friend drove the car out and Steven Weaver had told others to let go of Nakooka. That’s when Nakooka punched Steven Weaver in the back of the head, knocking him to the ground, Sheppard said.
Nottingham said he was hit on the left side of his face and across his left chest with the rake held by Nakooka.
Nakooka threatened to kill Nottingham, he said, and held the sharp broken part of a rake handle like a spear as he ran toward people in the group.
Instead of continuing on to Hana as they had planned, the tourists drove their vehicles to Paia, where they reported what happened at the fire station.
Ramana Sawyer, who was working at a nearby farm stand, also called police after hearing yelling from a number of people and seeing Nakooka “surrounded by a group of five to six people that are angry or aggressive,” Deputy Public Defender Annalisa Bernard said in her closing arguments.
“He sees Jesse holding a stick in self-defense,” she said.
Nakooka was outnumbered by younger, athletic men in the tourist group, Bernard said. “Everyone’s in his face, yelling at him,” she said. “If Jesse feels he needs to defend himself and his family, that’s perfectly fine.”
After the tourists left, Nakooka flagged down arriving police officers and gave them the license plate number of the visitors’ car, Bernard said.
She said police found Nakooka with 11 $20 bills because his wife gave him the money from the business cash register to use for bail when she realized he might be arrested.
Nakooka, who is free on bail, is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 14.
Judge Joseph Cardoza presided over the trial.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.