Connecting the dots in the case against Capobianco
The defendant’s story is often at odds with testimony of prosecution witnesses over 55 days in court
On the night Carly “Charli” Scott was last seen alive, her ex-boyfriend Steven Capobianco said she drove him to a location 3.2 miles east of Keanae to retrieve his truck that had stalled there the night before.
Witness by witness, Capobianco’s account about the night of Feb. 9, 2014, was contradicted during 55 days of prosecution testimony in his 2nd Circuit Court murder trial.
At about 6:15 that morning, when Capobianco said his truck would have been broken down along Hana Highway,
his grandfather said Capobianco left their Haiku residence and drove to work in the truck, a silver 1992 Toyota 4Runner.
Surveillance video from a Bank of Hawaii automated teller machine shows what a police officer described as a lifted early 1990s model silver Toyota 4Runner — like the one Capobianco had — passing the Paia branch of the bank on Baldwin Avenue at 6:41 a.m. The 4Runner was heading uphill in the direction of the gravel employee parking lot for Mana Foods, where Capobianco clocked in at 6:53 a.m. for his job as a baker.
Later that day, Capobianco told friend Kurt Kaiser, who had left his backpack in Capobianco’s truck a couple of nights earlier, that the backpack was in Capobianco’s unlocked vehicle in the Mana Foods parking lot.
In interviews three days later, Capobianco told police detectives that Scott picked him up in Haiku at about 8:30 the night of Feb. 9, 2014, and drove him roughly 45 minutes to his truck. He said she stayed in her vehicle, shining her headlights on the hood of his truck while he took five to 10 minutes to fix a loose battery cable.
Capobianco said he was driving back to Haiku, with Scott following in case his truck broke down again, before he lost sight of her headlights near Twin Falls at about 10:30 p.m.
He said he was back home in Haiku by 11 p.m.
But former Mana Foods co-worker Jennifer Taylor testified she saw Capobianco driving into Hana on Hana Highway between 9:30 and 11:30 that night. She said she didn’t see anyone else in the vehicle. Capobianco was driving a silver 4Runner that was “nice,” with edges that were rounder than the 4Runner she had previously seen him driving.
Scott’s champagne-colored 4Runner was a 1997 model with rounder edges, compared to the 1992 model that Capobianco had, according to a witness who was familiar with both 4Runners.
At 12:45 a.m. Feb. 10, 2014, a resident of Haumana Road reported being awakened by thick toxic smoke on the property, which is five to 10 minutes from the “Jaws” surf spot where Scott’s vehicle was found burned. That night, a Haiku man driving through the “Jaws” area reported seeing the vehicle upright and burned but otherwise intact. It was overturned on the driver’s side, with its doors and front grill missing, when police recovered the 4Runner the evening of Feb. 12, 2014.
Scott’s dog Nala, who had been with her in her vehicle, according to Capobianco, was found at 7 or 7:30 a.m. Feb. 10, 2014, at Nahiku Marketplace, which is between Keanae and Hana. The pit bull wasn’t injured and the pads of her feet weren’t cracked or dirty, as they would have been if she had walked more than 5 miles, Scott’s half sister Fiona Wais said after going to pick up the dog in the early hours of Feb. 12, 2014.
Scott’s family members and friends, police officers and experts in DNA testing, cellphone tower analysis and forensic pathology, anthropology and entomology were among the 71 witnesses called from June 27 until the prosecution rested its case Monday. The prosecution also introduced more than 400 exhibits, including photographs and records for cellphones belonging to Scott and Capobianco.
The defense was scheduled to present its case Wednesday and Thursday.
Capobianco, 27, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder of Scott and second-degree arson of her vehicle.
When she went missing, 27-year-old Scott was five months pregnant with a son fathered by Capobianco.
In the days afterward, he told police he wanted to find Scott and his child. “I want them to be safe,” he said. “I love them. I still love the idea of having a legacy and I would never bring harm to that.”
Detective Wendell Loo testified that Capobianco was cooperative but seemed “cold,” “unemotional” and “standoffish” in interviews with detectives.
Differences surfaced in what Capobianco told police and others about the night his truck broke down and the night he last saw Scott.
When he showed Scott’s sister, Brooke Scott, the location where he said his truck had stalled, she said Capobianco told her that Charli Scott had helped him jump-start his stalled truck.
When Brooke Scott asked how he had gotten home after his truck broke down, Capobianco paused before saying someone had picked him up while he was hitchhiking, she said. Scott said Capobianco “appeared to be thinking” before saying the car was “just like” hers, which was an unusual color of blue.
Adam Gaines, who had been a friend of both Capobianco and Charli Scott, said Capobianco reported his truck had broken down at 3 a.m. and he hitchhiked back to his house. Capobianco didn’t answer when Gaines asked how long he had to wait and what type and color of vehicle had picked him up.
In a conversation three months later, Capobianco said he was picked up by a light blue or gray Toyota Tercel or Corolla, Gaines said. Capobianco said the driver was a “local man” with dreadlocks, Gaines said.
In a Feb. 13, 2014, telephone interview with Hawaii News Now reporter Mileka Lincoln, Capobianco spoke about Charli Scott in the past tense, at one point saying, “She was a very caring person.”
“Do you think Charli may have had any enemies?” Lincoln asked during the interview.
“That’s hard for me to say. I didn’t hang out with her very often,” Capobianco replied. “But, I mean, she had kind of a mouth on her — I could see her pissing somebody off. But again, I don’t want to speculate — I don’t know for certain.”
As they searched for Scott, her friends and family members said Capobianco didn’t express concern for his unborn child. Asked if Capobianco expressed concern for Scott, Gaines said, “mildly.”
“It didn’t seem genuine,” Gaines testified. “He expressed the desire to find her, but there wasn’t an urgency in his voice or tone.”
When Capobianco joined volunteers searching in the Nahiku area on Feb. 12, 2014, “he was cracking jokes, not really paying attention,” Gaines said.
While Scott and Capobianco were a couple and living together in Kula, family members said they didn’t see Capobianco show affection for Scott. She cared for him, family members said, and would cook for him and do his laundry, while he spent time playing video games.
“When they were first moving there, they were dating and they were more playful and happy,” said Drew Kaiser, who was 16 or 17 when he met Capobianco and considered him his best friend. “As time went on and they started breaking up, it was different, not as much interaction with each other.
“He was a little more hostile toward her here and there. I didn’t see him abuse her verbally, but when we were away, he would say he hates her, f—ing b—-, stuff like that.”
Two former girlfriends testified that Capobianco didn’t like children. He told ex-girlfriend Taylor Farner that “he hated kids” and wanted to be sure she would get an abortion if she got pregnant, she testified.
Capobianco told police he and Scott had broken up “many years ago — I think it ended three, four years ago, but I can’t recall exactly.”
He said he remembered the night she would have gotten pregnant. “My current girlfriend, she was cheating on me, so I went to a bar and I had a few drinks,” Capobianco said. He said he saw Scott at the bar in Makawao and ended up staying overnight at her house. “I woke up in the morning before the sun was up entirely and bailed,” he said.
In October 2013, Capobianco went with Scott to Planned Parenthood in Kahului to schedule an abortion, according to the clinic manager. She said Scott didn’t show up for abortion appointments in November and December before saying she planned to keep the baby.
After Scott announced she was pregnant at a family gathering in December 2013, Wais said she texted Capobianco to ask whether he knew he had impregnated Scott. He texted back, “I thought she had taken care of it,” Wais said.
She said Capobianco called her to ask how she knew and she said Scott had told her. “He said it would ruin plans he had with a current girlfriend and that it wasn’t what was supposed to be happening and he needed to talk to Charli,” Wais said.
At the time, Capobianco’s girlfriend was Cassandra Kupstas, who was living in Pennsylvania and planning to return to Maui. She testified she and Capobianco would Skype with each other, at times for hours. They would talk about their plans to be together. “We were excited about seeing each other,” she said. “We told each other that we loved each other.”
But, in January 2014, after Capobianco told her that Scott was pregnant, Kupstas told him “that I didn’t want to be a stepmom,” she said. “I was upset,” she said. “I didn’t talk to him for a few days.”
Capobianco had been trying to get ahold of her before she eventually responded. “I remember telling him that I didn’t want him to be a deadbeat dad and that we would figure it out,” Kupstas said.
At about 8:15 p.m. Feb. 9, 2014, after Capobianco took a shower, he ended their Skype session and left his Haiku residence, saying he was going to work on a friend’s truck, Kupstas said.
She said she next heard from him in a Skype call at 2:30 a.m. Feb. 10, 2014, when he seemed “out of sorts” and showed her injuries to the back of his hands. Capobianco said he had been working on his truck when he smashed one hand on the hood and sliced the other hand on the battery terminals, Kupstas said.
Capobianco told Mana Foods co-workers he got the injuries from working on a friend’s Honda when the cable used to lift a power window on the vehicle wrapped around his hands. He told police the injuries were “burns from work as a baker” and from “working on my truck window.”
At about 5:30 a.m. Feb. 11, 2014, Kupstas said her Skype call with Capobianco was interrupted by police officers at his door asking about Scott, who had been reported missing the night before. Later that day, he told Kupstas that police had questioned him about Scott but didn’t say he had seen her, Kupstas said.
After she read the online Hawaii News Now transcript of Capobianco’s interview, Kupstas said she confronted Capobianco about lying to her about where he was the night Scott disappeared. In a lengthy text message, he responded that “he only lied to me this time out of embarrassment and fear.”
As family members and friends began searching for Scott, some said Capobianco seemed to be steering them away from the dirt road off Hana Highway leading to Nuaailua Bay, which is also known as “Paraquats” beach. The location is about 4.5 miles in the Haiku direction from the spot where Capobianco said his truck had stalled.
Brooke Scott and her half sister Phaedra Wais were driving from Keanae back toward Haiku in the late afternoon Feb. 11, 2014, when they saw Capobianco’s headlights coming up the dirt road to the bay. He told them he had already searched there before offering to drive the sisters down, Brooke Scott said. They said no.
Later that night, as Capobianco and Gaines drove to Keanae to check on a tip that Scott’s vehicle might be there, Gaines said he pointed out the dirt road to Nuaailua as a good place to search. Capobianco “said that it wasn’t necessary, that he had already searched it,” Gaines said.
The next afternoon, as Kyle Knight was driving toward Nahiku to join searchers, he said he noticed a “pretty foul stench” just before the Keanae area. He said he mentioned the smell to others including Capobianco, who said “that he and the family searched that area” multiple times.
An app installed on Scott’s cellphone so her mother could keep track of Scott showed her phone lost connection at Nuaailua Bay at 10:56 p.m. Feb. 9, 2014.
Four days later, in the late afternoon, Phaedra Wais and two others ventured down the dirt road to Nuaailua Bay. As they were beginning to enter a wooded area, Wais recognized a “Twilight” DVD that had been in Scott’s vehicle. About the same time, a little deeper into the wooded area, searcher Molly Wirth found the long black skirt and blue polka-dotted tank top that Scott had been wearing the night she was last seen.
The searchers continued on to a streambed, where they found Scott’s maggot-infested green blanket, along with a pair of Perry Ellis black jeans, a gray hooded sweatshirt and two rolls of masking tape.
Because it was getting dark and they were worried about leaving the items in the remote area with limited cellphone service, the searchers put the items in the bed of Wirth’s pickup truck and drove back to the Scott family residence on West Kuiaha Road in Haiku.
Police officers who began searching the Nuaailua Bay area the next day found two lower jawbone fragments matched to Scott, another bone fragment, a black bra, five fingernails, skin fragments, clumps of red hair and a body piercing with some flesh attached.
Later, police also recovered the trunk of a tree with vertical cut marks on its bottom portion from the area where the other evidence was found.
Another pair of jeans, DKNY blue jeans that were stained with what looked like blood, was recovered Feb. 13, 2014, after being found by a volunteer searcher over a makai guardrail at Mile Marker 9.5 on Hana Highway. Both the blue jeans and the black jeans were size 32 with a 30-inch inseam.
Honolulu Police Department criminalist Samantha Kashimoto, who tested the blue jeans, said there were blood stains on the jeans that were exact DNA matches to Scott. DNA from both Scott and Capobianco couldn’t be excluded from being on the waistband of the jeans, but there wasn’t a strong match, Kashimoto said.
Additional DNA testing done this year by the FBI laboratory matched a 2- to 3-inch-long black hair found in the right front pocket of the jeans to Capobianco. The prosecution turned over the results to the defense within about a week of receiving reports in May, as jury selection was about to begin. Based on the timing, 2nd Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza ruled the results couldn’t be presented as evidence in the trial.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Jon Apo said police focused on Capobianco “rather than conduct any full and fair legitimate investigation to find out the truth about Carly Scott’s disappearance and death.”
Apo said Scott’s mother directed police to Capobianco “simply because she hated Steven.”
“I wouldn’t necessarily say I hated him,” Kimberlyn Scott said during her testimony. “But I did not like the way he treated my daughter.”
Some defense questions and some jury questions centered on the motives of those testifying and their connections with Scott’s family members.
“Are you on a mission to convict Steven?” a question submitted by a juror asked Knight.
“Nope,” he answered. “From day one, I wanted the truth to come out. That’s why I stood by him as long as I did. No one else was. Up until, you know, the point that he got arrested, I considered him my friend.”
Capobianco told police that, after his truck broke down in Keanae, Knight gave him a ride to work the next morning — which Knight denied.
“Just simple things like him saying that I gave him a ride to work that morning tells me that he’s lying about the situation,” Knight said. “Friends don’t really deceive friends like that.”
Some of Capobianco’s Mana Foods co-workers recalled earlier conversations that seemed to take on new meaning after Scott was reported missing.
Ashley Sylva, who considered Capobianco one of her best friends, said they had been talking about the Jan. 12, 2014, disappearance of Moreira “Mo” Monsalve when Sylva asked what Capobianco thought had happened to the 46-year-old Maui woman. “He said if it was him he would just throw her off the side of the cliff,” Sylva said, recalling the exchange that occurred before Scott’s disappearance. “Because nobody would ever find her.”
Four days after Scott was last seen, a searcher with a dog reported seeing possible drag marks under a guardrail leading to a cliff near Mile Marker 18 on Hana Highway, near Keanae. Police searched the area, even calling on the Fire Department’s rescue helicopter to help, without finding anything.
Co-worker Ginseng Mileur said Capobianco had asked “how to get away with murder” while at work in the bakery two or three weeks before Scott disappeared.
In April 2014, a couple of months after Scott’s disappearance, another bakery co-worker John Palicki said Capobianco talked about seeing bruises on the arm of his cousin’s friend, as if someone had grabbed her. “I thought I would have to keep myself from killing someone again,” Palicki recalled Capobianco saying.
In questions to forensic expert witnesses, First Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Robert Rivera hinted at the prosecution’s theory of how Scott was killed.
Forensic anthropologist Rebecca Taylor, who examined the jawbone fragments, teeth and other bone fragments recovered at the scene, said “a significant amount of force” would have been required to completely fracture the middle of the jawbone.
Another fracture that broke off the upper right back portion of the jawbone could have occurred if someone sitting in the driver’s seat of a vehicle was punched by someone in the passenger’s seat, Taylor said in response to another question by Rivera.
She said there were indications of defleshing or dismemberment on the lower right jawbone. Taylor also testified about cut marks on the jawbone that showed “false starts” indicating a serrated blade, such as a steak knife, had been used like a saw there.
Dr. Lindsey Harle, a forensic pathologist who was Maui County coroner’s physician in 2014, classified Scott’s death as a homicide, noting the “suspicious injury” to her jawbone. The police investigation, witness statements and evidence from the crime scene also contributed to her finding, Harle said.
Examining the development stages of maggots collected from clothing, the blanket and soil at Nuaailua Bay, forensic entomologist M. Lee Goff determined there were two insect-laying events associated with the maggots. When Rivera asked if that was consistent with a dead body having been wrapped in a blanket that was taped at the ends to prevent insect activity for a period, Goff said yes.
Goff also said his findings were consistent with someone having been killed between 9 and 11 p.m. Feb. 9, 2014, the night Scott was last seen.
Responding to Rivera’s questions, expert witnesses said the clumps of red hair and fingernails found at the scene could have slipped off a decomposing body as it was being dragged.
FBI Special Agent Michael Easter analyzed call detail records for Capobianco’s and Scott’s cellphones to determine which cellphone towers and sectors the phones selected.
From December 2013 to March 2014, as Capobianco’s cellphone searched for the best signal, it selected a sector that was facing west on a cellphone tower at the 6,600-foot elevation of Haleakala about 62 percent of the time, Easter said. That sector provided 3G service, Easter said.
He said Capobianco’s phone selected a 2G sector indicating it could have been on Hana Highway, including in the Keanae area, less than 1 percent of the time — on Feb. 1, 9, 10, 11 and 12, 2014.
Capobianco told police he went to Nuaailua Bay with his cousin and his truck got stuck there Feb. 1, 2014.
There was no cellphone activity indicating Capobianco’s phone would have been in the Hana Highway area including Keanae on Feb. 8, 2014, according to Easter’s analysis.
He said the phone could have been in the Keanae area for a text message at 9:49 p.m. Feb. 9, 2014, the night Scott was last seen. By the time of another text message at 11:20 that night, the phone was back using the 3G sector it selected most of the time, Easter said.
Capobianco’s cellphone was again using the 2G sector at 5:19 and 5:49 p.m. Feb. 10, 2014.
That afternoon, Drew Kaiser said Capobianco dropped off his twin brother Kurt Kaiser’s backpack at the family home in Makawao. When Drew Kaiser asked Capobianco if he wanted to party at Kaiser’s sister’s house that night, “he said he was busy,” Kaiser said.
“I asked him if he saw Charli and he said he did not,” Kaiser said. “He usually would hang out and we would smoke some pot. He was in a hurry that night.”
Later that night, Kimberlyn Scott called police to report her daughter missing.
The next day, Feb. 11, 2014, there were 15 attempted calls from Capobianco’s phone to Charli Scott’s phone from 5:47 to 6:30 p.m., according to Easter.
At 4:30 or 5 that afternoon, Capobianco had shown Phaedra Wais and Brooke Scott the location past Keanae where he said his truck had stalled and they later saw his headlights coming up from the dirt road to Nuaailua Bay.
On Feb. 12, 2014, after going to the Wailuku Police Station to talk with detectives in the morning and allowing police to search his 4Runner, Capobianco and his dog Chunk showed up in the late afternoon in Nahiku, where volunteer searchers had gathered.
Easter testified that Scott’s phone was last active when she received a text message at 8:38 p.m. Feb. 9, 2014. Her phone used a sector consistent with the area of her residence on Ahuwale Place in Makawao, Easter said.
Earlier that day, Charli Scott had gone to her job at Hui No’eau Visual Arts Center and met her mother and sisters there for the opening of an exhibit she had worked on.
That afternoon, Scott went to the Kaiser family home in Makawao, where she spent “maybe an hour” giving Kurt Kaiser a haircut. “She seemed a bit sad about something,” he said.
But Kaiser said her mood improved and “she was pretty happy” when he and his twin brother went for a ride with Scott in her 4Runner. They drove up Olinda Road before Scott dropped the brothers off at their mother’s house.
By 5:30 or 6 p.m., Scott was at a day-late birthday gathering for her sister Brooke Scott at the West Kuiaha Road home of Brooke Scott’s boyfriend. Phaedra Wais was there and their mother stopped by with food. Charli Scott left shortly after 8 p.m., saying she needed to get gas, Brooke Scott recalled.
Kurt Kaiser said Charli Scott sent him a text message at about 8 that night. “It was a very short text,” he said.
Asked how the text message made him feel, Kaiser said, “I felt very happy.”
“That was the last I heard from her.”
Judge Joseph Cardoza is presiding over the trial, which began with jury selection May 23.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.