WAILUKU - In the days before a man reported being beaten with bats and doused with gasoline outside his Honokowai apartment last year, he said he had a "falling out" with his employer over $100,000 missing from the employer's safe.
"There was tension," said Andy Burkhart, who had been living with his girlfriend in employer Brok Carlton's house at the time. "It was really weird."
Testifying Wednesday afternoon in Carlton's 2nd Circuit Court trial, Burkhart identified Carlton as one of the four men who assaulted and robbed him last year.
Carlton, 39, of Kihei has pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping, first-degree robbery, second-degree assault and unauthorized control of a propelled vehicle in the incident.
Burkhart said that he had walked out of his second-floor Maui Sands apartment and was going to pick up his girlfriend from her job in Lahaina at about 9:30 p.m. March 21 when he saw Carlton coming up the stairs, with another man identified as Noah Thomas-Francis behind him.
Carlton went to grab Burkhart's keys and cellphone and "kind of lunged at me," Burkhart said, "so I hit him."
Burkhart said he began walking backward, losing his slipper. He and Carlton were scuffling when "I got hit from behind in the back and I dropped," Burkhart said.
"I was completely shocked," he said.
He said two men, who appeared to be Filipino, shorter and stocky, were hitting him with aluminum bats.
"We started fighting and I was holding onto Brok, but I was getting hit. I was just kind of shielding the best I could," Burkhart said.
He said that he was struck with the bats and kicked on his side, arms and elbow, causing him to release his grip on Carlton.
Burkhart said that he was still on the ground when Carlton sat up and pulled out zip-ties that he tried to use to bind Burkhart's feet.
"I was holding onto this rail," Burkhart said. "He tried to drag me.
"At one point, Noah started pouring gasoline on me."
Burkhart said someone said, "Light this motherf----- on fire."
Burkhart said that he was trying to fight off the men when his neighbors and people outside began yelling that the police were coming. When he heard sirens, Burkhart said his attackers got up and Thomas-Francis began picking up zip-ties and other items that had fallen during the struggle.
Thinking the fight was over, Burkhart said he was getting up when Carlton kicked him in the head. He said he also was kicked in the head by Thomas-Francis, who was wearing boots.
"Noah tells me if I don't get the money, this is going to keep happening to me," Burkhart said.
He said that he saw Carlton and Thomas-Francis leave the complex in Burkhart's BMW sport utility vehicle. The vehicle was later found abandoned near a beach access gate.
Burkhart said he had been "good friends" with Carlton after responding to a Craigslist ad and moving from San Diego to Maui to work for him in December 2012. But earlier in March, the two had a "falling out," Burkhart said.
He said he got a phone call from Carlton, who said he had opened his safe and $100,000 was missing.
Burkhart said he continued working for Carlton for a few days until he received a text message saying his belongings were outside. Burkhart found his clothes, bags and other property on the curb outside Carlton's house. Some property was missing, including the title to his white 2002 BMW X5, Burkhart said.
He said he bought the car in December 2012, putting down $3,500 toward the $7,000 purchase price, with Carlton agreeing to front the rest and taking the money out of Burkhart's pay.
Burkhart said he had moved into the Maui Sands unit a day or two before the assault was reported.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Graham Mottola, Burkhart acknowledged that he pleaded guilty to a domestic violence conviction in Arizona in 2003 and to misuse of personal identification for an unlawful purpose in San Diego in 2010.
In his opening statement to the jury Tuesday, Mottola said that the evidence would show that Carlton was defending himself after Burkhart threw the first punch the night of March 21.
Carlton had gone to the Maui Sands complex that night to get back his BMW sport utility vehicle after getting a phone call at about 7 p.m. from Burkhart saying he could pick up the car, Mottola said.
He said Carlton agreed to meet Burkhart at 9 p.m. at Burkhart's residence and Thomas-Francis agreed to go with Carlton to get the vehicle. Carlton didn't want to take his girlfriend with him because Burkhart had previously threatened them, Mottola said.
When Carlton and Thomas-Francis got to the complex at about 9:30 p.m., Carlton saw Burkhart outside at the top of a staircase with the key to the BMW in his hand, Mottola said. He said Carlton received the key from Burkhart before he swung at Carlton, who was struck on the forehead and fell.
Mottola said Burkhart had Carlton in a chokehold when Thomas-Francis twice stomped on Burkhart's head to try to free Carlton. Carlton and Thomas-Francis left in Carlton's Lexus sport utility vehicle, Mottola said.
After police went to Carlton's residence and arrested him at 3:30 a.m. March 22, Carlton lied in a police interview later that afternoon by saying he hadn't been at Burkhart's condominium, Mottola said.
He said Carlton's girlfriend would testify that Burkhart had made threats against her.
Testifying Wednesday morning, Kihei patrol officer Matthew Engoring said he responded to Carlton's residence on March 15 to investigate a theft. Carlton said someone had stolen $90,000 from the safe, which he opened by shaving off the hinges, Engoring said.
The officer said Carlton had noticed his car and safe keys missing from the kitchen counter and suspected Burkhart and his girlfriend of taking the money.
Carlton appeared to be intoxicated and was drinking a beer while making the report, Engoring said.
After at first saying he noticed the money was missing the day before, Carlton later said he discovered the money was missing March 12, which "made a little bit more sense" based on rust on the hinges of the safe, which was in the yard, Engoring said.
Judge Rhonda Loo is presiding over the trial, which is continuing today.
Thomas-Francis, 34, of Pukalani is awaiting sentencing after pleading no contest to a reduced charge of second-degree robbery.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.