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Witness describes struggle for gun, fatal shooting

Murder suspect ‘barged in’ while couple was in bed

While testifying in Thursday’s preliminary hearing, witness Christine Mendes describes how defendant Justin Namauu allegedly aimed a pistol at Dennis Pacheco and shot him in her home. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

WAILUKU — A man had been trying to take away a gun that was pointed at a woman before he was fatally shot last week at a Kanaio residence, the woman testified Thursday.

She identified the shooter as Justin Namauu, 42, who is charged with second-degree murder in the killing of 45-year-old Dennis Pacheco of Kanaio.

During a preliminary hearing for Namauu in Wailuku District Court, Christine Mendes described Pacheco as a good friend who had been at her house to fix her truck on May 20. When he didn’t finish the work that day, he stayed overnight, Mendes said.

Pacheco had been sleeping on the couch before getting into bed with her just before Namauu arrived at the house on his quad at about 7 a.m. May 21, she said.

“I heard Justin’s car coming and I said, ‘Oh my God, it’s Justin,’ “ Mendes said. “Dennis said, ‘Tell him to get the f— out of here.’ “

Justin Namauu

She said she was going to get out of the bed when Namauu “barged in” through the front door, which is within sight of the bed.

“He walked up to us and he shot Dennis,” Mendes said.

She said Namauu had a pistol and was “standing right over” Pacheco when Namauu fired one shot that grazed Pacheco on the head.

Mendes said she and Pacheco got up and tried to grab the gun away from Namauu. They were just outside the front doorway when Mendes said she grabbed a machete and hit Namauu on the head with the blunt side.

“At that time, we were both trying to get that gun or hurt him, get away from him,” she said. “We were scared.”

Murder defendant Justin Namauu, 42, looks back toward the gallery as he is led out of court after his preliminary hearing Thursday afternoon in Wailuku District Court. He is charged with second-degree murder in the May 21 fatal shooting of Dennis Pacheco, 45, of Kanaio.

After Mendes hit Namauu with the machete, “he got mad, and he threw me down and pointed the gun to me,” she said.

“I was yelling to him, ‘Don’t shoot, don’t shoot,’ and Dennis came from behind for grab the gun,” she said.

Namauu swung his arm back and hit Pacheco, Mendes said. “He just fell down, and he just shot him,” she said. “Justin shot.”

Namauu was standing when he shot Pacheco, who was on the ground, Mendes said. “I heard two shots, one after the other,” she said.

She said Pacheco had been wearing a towel that fell off during the struggle.

Deputy Prosecutor Carson Tani speaks with family members of victim Dennis Pacheco outside the courtroom Thursday afternoon.

Mendes said she got up to run away when Namauu grabbed her and she fell down. She said she was screaming for help when Namauu taped her mouth.

She was on the ground and could see Pacheco, Mendes said. “He did not move at all,” she said.

Responding to questions by Judge Blaine Kobayashi, Mendes said she didn’t see a wound on Pacheco’s body and couldn’t see any blood.

After the shooting, Mendes said Namauu reversed Pacheco’s sport utility vehicle and told her to help him get Pacheco into the vehicle.

“I did not want to help grab Dennis,” she said. “He was yelling at me to grab him, so I just held his hand.”

She said Namauu went to Pacheco’s sport utility vehicle and “threw Dennis on all his tools and stuff.”

Mendes said Pacheco had been her boyfriend when they met about nine years ago. She said she had been dating Namauu, but they weren’t really boyfriend and girlfriend.

Detective Nelson Hamilton, the lead detective in the homicide investigation, testified that during an interview Namauu denied knowing Pacheco and denied having firearms after Namauu’s arrest May 23. Namauu asked for a lawyer to end the approximately 10-minute interview, Hamilton said.

Two days later, when Hamilton advised Namauu of his bail amount, Namauu asked to speak to the detective again.

In the May 25 interview, Namauu said his niece had recently died, and he was looking for someone to be with, but Mendes had made excuses about why she couldn’t be with him, Hamilton said. “So he went to her residence,” Hamilton said. “He suspected she was fooling around.”

After seeing Pacheco’s vehicle outside, Namauu said he went into the residence and found Mendes and Pacheco in bed together, Hamilton said. Namauu reported that both Mendes and Pacheco “jumped up and rushed him,” he said.

“He claims Christine Mendes hit him over the head with a machete and Dennis was reaching for the gun,” a .38-caliber revolver that Namauu had with him, Hamilton said.

Namauu said “they fought over it, the gun went off twice and Dennis dropped to the ground,” Hamilton said.

“He said he knew he was dead, so they loaded him into Dennis’ vehicle, at which time he covered Dennis’ body with a pink comforter,” Hamilton said.

He said Namauu reported driving to his house with Pacheco’s vehicle and stashing it next to a tractor. Later, Namauu said he went back to Mendes’ residence, where he fixed her vehicle, Hamilton said.

He said Namauu reported that he and Mendes went back to his residence and he loaded Pacheco’s body onto a cage welded to his quad and drove it downhill and east before stashing the body in a crevice in a brushy area.

After saying the body couldn’t be seen from the air, Namauu guided police officers to the location in Kahikinui on May 25, when the body was recovered, Hamilton said.

Dr. Rachel Lange, a forensic pathologist who performed an autopsy on Pacheco’s body Saturday, said Pacheco had a gunshot wound to his torso that entered his left upper chest above his collarbone, fracturing the collarbone, perforating his left lung and continuing on to perforate his heart.

Just above Pacheco’s left eye, his eye socket bone was fractured by what could have been a graze wound from a bullet, Lange said.

In a search of Namauu’s residence, Hamilton said police recovered five rifles, 14 calibers of ammunition, three spent .38-caliber casings and a live .38-caliber casing. As a convicted felon, Namauu said he knew he wasn’t allowed to possess firearms or ammunition, Hamilton said.

Police also recovered a sweatshirt and surf shorts with suspected blood stains that matched the description of clothing that Namauu was reportedly wearing when he disposed of Pacheco’s body, Hamilton said.

Namauu has six felony convictions beginning in June 1995, he said.

After hearing testimony at the preliminary hearing, Kobayashi ruled there was sufficient evidence to support a finding of probable cause for the five charges against Namauu.

In addition to second-degree murder, Namauu is charged with using a firearm in the commission of a felony, prohibited possession of a pistol, prohibited possession of ammunition and keeping a pistol in an improper place.

He is being held in lieu of $2 million bail at the Maui Community Correctional Center.

Namauu is scheduled to be arraigned June 13 in 2nd Circuit Court.

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

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