Stranger danger co-defendant avoids more jail

Man accused of trying to lure schoolgirls into car

WAILUKU — A man accused of trying to lure Kihei schoolgirls into a car he was driving last year avoided additional jail time Wednesday, with a judge calling him “lucky” after sentencing his co-defendant to a year behind bars last week.

Michael Evangelista, 46, was ordered to serve one year of probation after pleading no contest to second-degree attempted custodial interference. His co-defendant, Edward J. Martin, 40, was given a harsher sentence by 2nd Circuit Court Judge Rhonda Loo.

“This is basically stranger danger part two,” Loo told Evangelista. “I understand that out of the two of you, who was the more culpable? I get that Mr. Martin’s record was much worse, but it does not excuse your behavior. If you’re going to choose your friends, you better start picking better friends.”

Police said Martin was in the front passenger seat of a black 1994 Mercedes two-door coupe that approached an 11-year-old girl walking toward the school bus stop at Aliilani Place and Kenolio Road at 7:15 a.m. Sept 19.

Martin reportedly told the girl to go with him and Evangelista, who was driving the car that had shattered windows.

The girl walked faster to meet another girl, and the car continued following slowly as the girls walked to the bus stop, according to police. A third girl joined the two girls.

When they reached the bus stop, where a parent was waiting with her child, the car left, police said.

Audio and video of police interviewing the girls and Evangelista were played for Loo. Evangelista could be heard telling police that he has a young daughter and that “I don’t look at kids like that.”

“If I was doing a crime hypothetically, I wouldn’t be crying,” he told a police officer.

Evangelista told Loo on Wednesday that Martin is not a “bad guy” and that he did not realize what was happening. He said he was careless and could not tell her what ethnicity the kids were or what clothes they were wearing.

“I see how it all unfolded now, I just never expected to be in this scenario,” he said. “I feel bad for the kids and the dad, big time.”

When he was arrested, Evangelista was on probation for misdemeanor abuse of family and household members. He served about 50 days jail after his probation was revoked and over 100 days for the custodial interference charge.

Defense attorney Graham Mottola said his client has since been “following the law and doing everything he can at this point in time.” He thanked Loo after the sentencing Wednesday.

“I believe Judge Rhonda Loo with her extensive experience as a deputy prosecuting attorney for the County of Maui and her more important years on the bench as a District Court judge and a Circuit Court judge came to the proper conclusion for the sentence rendered today,” Mottola said.

Loo pointed out that both defendants smoked methamphetamine the morning before the incident, which did not excuse their behavior. She also noted her concerns over police finding two knives, zip ties and a tie-down in the car.

“You’re walking a very, very thin line so whatever mistakes you made in the past, don’t make them in the future,” Loo said. “You make them in the future, there will be very serious consequences. Do you understand Mr. Evangelista?”

“Loud and clear your honor,” he replied.

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

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