WAILUKU - A Kihei man is facing a prison sentence after he was found guilty of kidnapping, robbing and assaulting a former employee, who was beaten with baseball bats and doused with gasoline at a Honokowai condominium complex last year.
Brok Carlton, 40, who had been free after posting $260,000 bail, was taken into custody and held without bail Friday afternoon after a 2nd Circuit Court jury returned guilty verdicts in the case. Carlton was convicted as charged of kidnapping, first-degree robbery and second-degree assault of Andy Burkhart, as well as unauthorized control of a propelled vehicle for the theft of Burkhart's BMW sport utility vehicle.
"There's a special hatred somebody has to have to douse someone with gasoline and set them on fire," Deputy Prosecutor Emlyn Higa said during closing arguments to jurors Thursday afternoon. "This is about getting burned.
Defendant Brok Carlton listens to the prosecution’s final arguments Thursday afternoon in a 2nd Circuit courtroom. On Friday, a jury found him guilty of kidnapping, first-degree robbery, second-degree assault and unauthorized control of a propelled vehicle.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Deputy Prosecutor Emlyn Higa makes his case to the jury Thursday in the Brok Carlton trial. The jury found Carlton guilty of assorted charges including kidnapping, robbery and assault.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
"The defendant got burned when his $90,000 was stolen. He suspected Andy, and that special hatred grew in him. He didn't want to just go to his apartment to get his money back. He wanted Andy to feel the flames."
Carlton's attorney, Graham Mottola, argued that Burkhart had enticed Carlton to the complex and staged the assault to get his former boss in trouble so he could steal customers from Carlton's air-conditioning repair business.
"Andy Burkhart's motive was to set up Brok Carlton," Mottola said.
During the trial, jurors heard contradicting testimony from Carlton and Burkhart about who was the aggressor in the incident at about 9:15 p.m. March 21 at the Maui Sands complex on Lower Honoapiilani Road.
Burkhart, 32, testified that he had left his second-floor unit and was going to pick up his girlfriend from her job when he saw Carlton coming up the stairs, with Noah Thomas-Francis behind him.
Carlton lunged at Burkhart before he punched Carlton in the face, then grabbed him in a chokehold, Burkhart said. He said he began moving backward toward his apartment, using Carlton's body as a shield from Thomas-Francis, when he was struck from behind by two men with baseball bats.
Carlton pulled out zip-ties, which he tried to use to bind Burkhart's feet and hands, and Thomas-Francis poured gasoline on Burkhart, he said. His attackers tried to light a large stick match, Burkhart said, before running away as police sirens got closer.
Burkhart said he saw Carlton and Thomas-Francis leave in Burkhart's BMW, which was parked at the complex, after the keys were taken during the struggle.
Oregon visitor Paul Wesner, who had driven into the parking lot with his wife as the attack was occurring, described seeing Burkhart "completely in survival mode," Higa said.
"He was just trying to survive the onslaught" as he was struck, kicked and stomped on, Higa said.
As one of the attackers walked by as he was leaving, Wesner heard him say, "Watch out for that guy, he's a thief," Higa said. He said Wesner gave police a license plate number of the vehicle the men drove off in and it was one letter off from the license plate number of Burkhart's BMW.
Police officers who responded to a 911 call, arriving at the complex at about 9:30 p.m., reported seeing a shoeprint on Burkhart's head and smelling gasoline on Burkhart, whose shirt was torn. Police recovered a Gatorade bottle smelling of gasoline and found small puddles of gasoline near the door to Burkhart's unit. Officers also found zip-ties and torn pieces of shirt at the scene.
Police photographed Burkhart's injuries, including a mark on the back of his head.
Carlton testified that he had loaned Burkhart the money to buy the BMW and hadn't been repaid. Carlton said he and Thomas-Francis went to the complex that night to retrieve the vehicle after Burkhart called and said Carlton could pick up the car.
Carlton said he stomped on Burkhart after he had punched Carlton in the face, put him in a chokehold and dragged him toward Burkhart's apartment.
There, Mottola said, Burkhart had the two men waiting with aluminum bats.
"Andy Burkhart was not scared," Mottola said. "Andy Burkhart had the equalizer in his own apartment lying in wait."
After Carlton and Thomas-Francis left, Burkhart had the men with the baseball bats enact the fight that the Wesners saw, Mottola said.
"Andy Burkhart did not sustain substantial bodily injury," Mottola said. "It's because he didn't want to get severely injured, but he needed to be injured enough to satisfy police so they would believe all of his story."
Mottola said Burkhart planted the zip-ties and other evidence police found. Mottola also said Burkhart arranged to have the BMW driven to the beach access gate about a mile away where it was easily found the following morning.
Ten days before the attack, on March 11, Carlton said that he discovered $90,000 missing from a safe in his house. At the time, Burkhart and his girlfriend were living in Carlton's house. He said the money was to pay back taxes to the Internal Revenue Service.
After the verdicts were announced Friday, Higa asked that Carlton be held without bail. Higa said Carlton was a flight risk and was facing a prison term of at least 20 years.
"It's now an adjudicated fact that he tried to set somebody on fire with gasoline," Higa said. "Given that the defendant has been found guilty, this is a seismic shift in his legal position."
Mottola said Carlton had complied with court requirements while free on bail. "There's nothing to indicate he's done anything besides work hard running his business," Mottola said.
Second Circuit Judge Rhonda Loo, who presided over the trial, ordered that Carlton be held without bail. She noted that Carlton testified his business earned $750,000 at the end of 2012. "It appears to the court he has the means to be a flight risk," Loo said.
Carlton's sentencing was scheduled for June 6.
Outside of court, Higa said, "We are grateful to the jury for their service in this long and difficult case."
Mottola declined to comment.
Co-defendant 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.