Shooting suspect pleads not guilty

WAILUKU – A Haiku man identified as one of four masked gunmen allegedly involved in the fatal shooting of a 24-year-old man at a Kahului home pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge Thursday in Wailuku District Court.

Witnesses told police that Bronsen Rodrigues, 30, who wore a black hoodie and a red bandana over his face, brandished a rifle during Monday’s robbery, according to court documents.

He was being held without bail Thursday, and a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Monday.

The victim was identified by police Thursday as Melvin Santos of Kahului.

The incident occurred early Monday morning when Santos and others were cleaning up after a card game at a Kea Street residence, according to court documents. The residence was known to be a “gambling house,” with card games held regularly.

At 2:49 a.m., a caller reported four unknown men at the residence threatening people with a rifle and handgun. The men had walked up the driveway and ordered everyone to get on the ground, the court documents said.

Several gamblers panicked and ran, but a man and woman stayed. The woman told police that two of the robbers entered the carport and demanded money from the male gambler, while the other two stayed in the driveway. The two men assaulted the male gambler with a bat and metal pipe after he refused their demands, court documents said.

While the men beat the male gambler, Santos attempted to hide in a storage room in the open carport. The men then turned their attention to Santos and attempted to force their way into the room, court documents said.

“Santos attempted to fight back . . . with a three-prong Hawaiian sling, at which time he was shot through the door,” according to court documents. “Santos then collapsed behind the door, where he was later located dead from a gunshot wound to the chest.”

The male gambler, who was being beaten, fled the scene after the shooting and later was taken to the emergency room. He and another person identified two of the men, saying that they had been to the residence just before the shooting. Both witnesses suspected that one of the men was Rodrigues, who was at the Kea Street residence twice that night prior to the robbery, court documents said.

The male gambler later told police that the robbery occurred less than an hour after Rodrigues had left the residence the second time. He told police that a tall man wearing a red bandana covering his face and a black hoodie walked toward the group holding a rifle.

The male gambler said that as soon as he saw the man he said to himself, “It’s Bronsen,” according to court documents. The man said he has known Rodrigues for a long time “and knows him too well” and “is 100 percent positive it was Bronsen.”

Rodrigues was arrested later Monday at 10:09 a.m. after police spotted him attempting to leave a residence on East Hawaii Street in Kahului. He was detained and taken to the Wailuku Police Station.

A search warrant executed Tuesday afternoon on Rodrigues’ silver Hyundai car resulted in the recovery of a red bandana “tied as if to slip over the face” and a black hoodie.

About a dozen of Rodrigues’ family members attended his initial appearance in court Thursday, including his children and girlfriend. When he entered the courtroom, some family members cried uncontrollably and two women walked out of the courtroom.

Deputy Public Defender Tyler Stevenson asked for nominal bail for Rodrigues, noting that the defendant is a lifetime resident of Maui and has “given no indication he is a flight risk.” Stevenson also asked that a bail study and hearing be scheduled.

Deputy Prosecutor Byron Fujieda argued that the defendant be held without bail, which caused one family member to shout a profanity. Fujieda said the seriousness of the offense and possible penalty life with the possibility of parole – “definitely creates a flight risk opportunity.”

Fujieda added that Rodrigues has 14 criminal contempt of court convictions and convictions for second-degree terroristic threatening and abuse of a family member.

“What we see from this individual is that he not only has a propensity to violence but also has a propensity to not follow court direction and orders,” he said.

Judge Adrianne Heely maintained the no-bail status for Rodrigues but granted a bail study and hearing. She also granted a defense request to withdraw as counsel because the Public Defender’s Office has represented the victim, Santos, previously.

Outside the courtroom, family members denied that Rodrigues did anything and said he was not at the Kea Street residence during the robbery.

“People make comments like they know him,” said one family member, who declined to be identified. “They don’t know him, they can’t just judge him because of the way he looks.

“He’s not capable of doing this. He’s a good person.”

The family member said 20 to 30 people were at the Kea Street house and wondered why no other suspects have been charged. She said Rodrigues has two sons, a daughter and girlfriend.

“We’re going to stand by him all the way because we know him,” she said. “He’s not a murderer.”

A heated argument among family members later ensued in the courtyard area outside the courthouse with two women shoving each other. The women, who appeared to be Rodrigues’ girlfriend and his sister, were screaming at each other and threatening to kill the other, before sheriffs, police and family members separated them.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.