Forensic pathologist: Blunt-force trauma killed Maliko Gulch man

Injuries consistent with blows from baseball bat

Murder defendant Jesse Hueu listens to testimony during his trial Friday morning in 2nd Circuit Court. He’s charged with second-degree murder in connection with the Dec. 11, 2014, baseball bat-beating death of Derrick Kualaau, 56, at his Maliko Gulch residence. -- The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

WAILUKU — A man killed four years ago at Maliko Gulch suffered severe blows to his head that split open his skull and left him dead in a pool of blood, according to testimony and a series of photos showed to jurors Thursday in the trial for murder suspect Jesse Hueu.

Autopsy and crime scene photos showed massive internal bleeding in Derrick Kualaau’s brain and right shoulder after he was found dead on the porch of his shack on the evening of Dec. 11, 2014. Hueu is accused of using a baseball bat to bash Kualaau in the back of the head and other parts of his body. According to previous and further testimony on Thursday, he later confessed to the killing to a fellow inmate while incarcerated at the Maui Community Correctional Center.

Hueu, 48, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.

“This is caused by a significant amount of force,” said forensic pathologist Dr. Lindsay Harle, who performed the autopsy on Kualaau the day after the killing. “The skull is a fairly thick bone and requires a lot of force to cause a fracture. . . . This would be a severe blow to the head.”

Harle told the court that the blows to the 56-year-old Kualaau were “obviously non-survivable injuries” and pointed out the various fractures throughout his skull. Side-by-side photos of his brain and a normal one showed his to have distinct bruises and a dark red to black color.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Lindsay Harle speaks Thursday morning during a murder trial for defendant Jesse Hueu in 2nd Circuit Court. -- The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

Harle said the laceration to Kualaau’s shoulder was a “pattern injury” and could be matched to an object. She said the oblong-shaped wound appeared to be caused by a long, narrow object.

Deputy Prosecutor Emlyn Higa asked if the pattern injury would be consistent with a baseball bat, which Harle confirmed. She said the two head injuries were caused by a blunt-force object as opposed to a sharp object like a knife.

Higa asked Harle if she found any defensive wounds on Kualaau’s body. Harle said the wounds would typically appear on the palms, forearms or fingers, but she did not find any.

Defense attorney Richard Gronna asked Harle if Kualaau had drugs in his system. She said he had high methamphetamine levels along with marijuana and nicotine. Jurors asked if the drugs may have affected his ability to defend himself, and Harle said that could have been the case, but she was uncertain because of the variable effects of drugs on people.

She estimated the time of death to be between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and noted that there was no obvious insect activity or fly eggs. Kualaau was found dead around 6 p.m., according to police.

On Friday, forensic entomologist M. Lee Goff also told the court that there was no evidence of fly activity. He put the time of death between 4 and 6 p.m.

The fellow inmate, Alex Kealoha, continued his testimony Thursday, reiterating to jurors that he came forward with Hueu’s story because he felt “it was the right thing to do.” He testified Wednesday that Hueu admitted killing Kualaau by hitting him in the back of the head with a baseball bat.

“I felt overwhelmed,” Kealoha said Thursday. “I was having headaches and stuff. It was too much to take in, and I didn’t know how to handle it. I knew it was the right thing to come forward and bring the statements I wrote down. I knew I had to come forward and do what was right.”

Kealoha said he eventually came forward a week and a half later because he wanted to see if Hueu could tell the same story to make sure he was telling the truth. He said police did not contact him or tell him that his future possible sentence would be reduced.

Kealoha is charged with three counts of first-degree burglary, three counts of second-degree theft, four counts of theft of a credit card, unauthorized entry into a motor vehicle, fraudulent use of a credit card and unauthorized possession of confidential personal information in four 2014 cases. He faces up to 70 years in prison.

Gronna, who asked Kealoha on Wednesday about receiving help from the state for his testimony in the case, questioned him again Thursday about his motives. Kealoha hasn’t been convicted and has been released on supervision while the charges are pending.

“You don’t know if you’re going to get a deal or not, right?” Gronna asked. “But you’re hoping you will, right? That’s part of the reason why you’re here because you’re hoping this testimony today will go and help you when your cases finally get adjudicated?”

“Whatever happens to me after this case I’m OK with it,” Kealoha answered. “If I have to go back to prison and if I die in prison because of it, I’m OK with it because I know I did the right thing. It was the right thing to do, and I have kids below me and I would want them to see I did the right thing.”

“This the first time in your life you’ve did the right thing?” Gronna asked.

“This is the biggest,” Kealoha said.

The trial with Judge Peter Cahill presiding continues Monday.

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

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