Oania found guilty of arson
Surveillance video captured suspect setting fire that caused more than $35,000 in damage to gas station
WAILUKU — A man who reportedly said he wanted to “blow up” places was found guilty of setting a fire that caused more than $35,000 in damage at Tesoro Gas Express in Kahului last year.
A 2nd Circuit Court jury deliberated for about three hours before reaching the verdict Monday afternoon, convicting Brandon Oania, 33, of first-degree arson.
The fire was set the night of Jan. 24, 2016, when Oania was a passenger in a white sport utility vehicle that his father drove into the gas station on Puunene Avenue at 11:12 p.m.
After his father went into the store and paid for $5 in gas, surveillance video showed Brandon Oania spraying gasoline on the pump, Deputy Prosecutor Carson Tani said in closing arguments to the jury Monday morning.
“It was this defendant who took control of the pump,” Tani said. “It was this defendant who never put that gas pump into the SUV.”
Oania instead filled a large water container with gasoline and laid down a line of gasoline leading away from the pump, Tani said.
“He told his father to go,” Tani said. “Then he lit that gasoline on fire.”
After a Tesoro worker turned off the pumps, Kihei Ice employee Wade Alao used a fire extinguisher to put out the blaze.
Oania’s father, Joseph Oania, 56, testified some gasoline spilled from the pump nozzle as his son was removing it from the vehicle.
Tani noted that testimony conflicted with the account he gave officer Cesar Desamito on Jan. 31, 2016, a week after the fire. In that recorded interview, Joseph Oania said his son “was shooting gas all over the place” before the fire started.
“But that’s understandable because Joseph is testifying against his own son,” Tani said. “It’s very uncomfortable. He’s trying to help his son as best he can.”
In the recorded interview, Joseph Oania said that before he and his son went to the gas station that night, Brandon Oania said “he wanted to blow up all kinds of f—ing sh–.”
“And that’s exactly what he did,” Tani said. “Fire plus gasoline equals arson.”
With surveillance video blurry, Tani said the most important thing Joseph Oania testified to was that his son was at the gas station that night.
“He told you who the other person is,” Tani said to the jury. “He told you that the other person is this defendant.”
Joseph Oania also was charged with first-degree arson in the fire. He testified as a prosecution witness in a plea deal calling for the charge to be dismissed if he testified truthfully in his son’s trial.
Brandon Oania also was linked to the fire by two fingerprints on a large water bottle smelling of gasoline that police found in the bed of a pickup truck at nearby Aloha Kia Maui on Wakea Avenue, Tani said. Officer Desamito testified he found the bottle when he canvassed the area after the fire.
Defense attorney John Parker, in his closing argument, said there was reasonable doubt that the two fingerprints matched to Oania were left at the time of the fire. While the two fingerprints were on the top of the bottle, seven other prints were unrecognizable and could have been made by someone else holding the lower portion of the bottle while spraying gasoline, Parker said.
He said officers who arrested and booked Brandon Oania on a traffic warrant at 2:09 a.m. Jan. 25, 2014, a few hours after the fire, testified they didn’t smell gasoline on him.
Oania, who was homeless and living in the vehicle with his father, wouldn’t have been able to clean up and change his clothing before he was arrested, Parker said.
“You can’t believe anything Joseph Oania says,” Parker told jurors. “He’s a liar.”
Tani said Oania wasn’t a liar.
“He’s just a simple man who loves his son, who happened to see his son set fire to a pump at the Tesoro Gas Express,” Tani said.
Brandon Oania chose not to testify at his trial.
Judge Rhonda Loo presided over the trial that began Aug. 14.
Oania is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 15 on the arson charge, which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
In another pending case, Brandon Oania is charged with attempted first-degree arson Feb. 5, 2016, at Maui Oil in Kahului.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.