Man acquitted of attempted murder in New Year’s stabbing

Defendant testified he ‘started flailing’ knife in self-defense

Tisse Henriksen testifies Monday in his 2nd Circuit Court attempted murder trial. A photo of the stabbing scene at the former Century 21 real estate office is shown behind Henriksen. Henriksen, who is wearing headphones to help him hear court proceedings, was found not guilty Wednesday. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

WAILUKU — A man who testified he was being choked and punched when he grabbed his knife and “started flailing” to stab another man four times was found not guilty of attempted murder.

A 2nd Circuit Court jury returned the verdict Wednesday afternoon, acquitting Tisse Henriksen of the charge of attempted second-degree murder.

“Tisse is very happy to finally be free,” said his attorney, Cary Virtue. “He acted in self-defense when he was ambushed by two men that beat up on him.

“I thought this was overcharged from the get-go, and I’m glad the jury agreed that this wasn’t proven.”

Henriksen, 55, said he was looking for a friend when the confrontation occurred shortly after midnight New Year’s Day 2017 at the former Century 21 real estate office at Puunene and Kaahumanu avenues in Kahului.

Deputy Prosecutor Ryan Teshima (left) places his arm around the neck of Deputy Prosecutor Emlyn Higa, who plays the part of defendant Tisse Henriksen while re-enacting the defendant’s account of a stabbing. Higa used the demonstration in arguing to jurors Tuesday that the stabbing couldn’t have happened as Henriksen said it did.

Testifying Monday in his trial, Henriksen said he had argued with his then-girlfriend that night and took his backpack when he left her Harbor Lights apartment, planning to stay out overnight. He said he went up the stairs to the dark lanai of the former real estate office after seeing a shopping cart outside that he thought belonged to his friend Patrick.

A man swore and told Henriksen to leave and punched him in the mouth, he said. Henriksen said he was punched again, then stepped back and was being choked from behind and punched in the back of his head by a second man.

“He was choking so hard I could not breathe anymore, period,” Henriksen said. “Every time he punched me, it was such velocity.

“It’s like someone firing a firework in your brain, and then you kind of see black for a second. I thought they were going to kill me. I just grabbed my knife. I tried to get him to stop choking me.”

Henriksen said the all-purpose knife with a 3- to 3.5-inch blade was in a sheath and attached to his backpack. He said he stabbed the man in the arm to try to get him to release the arm wrapped around Henriksen’s throat.

The choking and punching continued, Henriksen said.

“Then I started flailing to the left side,” Henriksen said. “He’s behind me. I was trying to reach anything.”

His account contradicted testimony by Kalani Wright, 31, who said he was stabbed while facing Henriksen.

Wright said he and others had been watching fireworks at Kahului Harbor before Henriksen showed up. Wright said he was told that Henriksen had been coming around all week looking for money.

After a scuffle between Henriksen and another man, Wright said he saw his friend on the ground and stepped in to intervene. Wright said he punched Henriksen in the face before the defendant pulled out the knife, stabbing Wright and slashing him across the face through the cartilage in his nose.

Wright, who acknowledged he was high on crystal methamphetamine, walked to the canoe hale at nearby Hoaloha Park, where his grandmother called 911.

He was transported to Maui Memorial Medical Center with four stab wounds, including one in his lower chest and another in his left chest near his armpit.

While none of the injuries were life-threatening, the wounds in Wright’s chest had the potential to be, according to testimony by Dr. Mitchell Tasaki, who treated Wright in the emergency room.

In his closing arguments to jurors Tuesday, Deputy Prosecutor Emlyn Higa said the force and placement of the stab wounds in Wright’s torso “showed he meant to do it.”

“He had an intent to kill,” Higa said.

With no footprints or smears, blood drops photographed on the lanai didn’t support Henriksen’s testimony that he had lost consciousness, then woke up on the lanai with no one around afterward, Higa said.

Virtue argued that cuts in Wright’s black jacket, including four linear lacerations to the right sleeve, supported Henriksen’s testimony that he had used the knife to try to get Wright to release his arm from around Henriksen’s neck.

“What is a man or a woman to do if they’re being beaten up and punched by two other people?” Virtue asked. “He did the only thing he could do. He grabbed that sheath knife, and he tried to get Kalani off him.

“Tisse didn’t have the intent to kill. He didn’t have the intent to cause serious injury.”

The stab wounds were consistent with Henriksen’s testimony that he was bent over in front of Wright, Virtue said. He said there were no stab wounds in the center of Wright’s chest, as there would have been if they were face to face during the confrontation.

“The jacket was really important,” Virtue said after the verdict was announced. “It showed Tisse was telling the truth because of the way the jacket wounds were.”

“I just really want to thank the jury for their very hard work in this case,” Virtue said. “They really took this case to heart and really examined the evidence thoroughly.”

Henriksen, who had been held at the Maui Community Correctional Center in lieu of $200,000 bail, was released after being found not guilty.

Judge Peter Cahill presided over the trial, which started with jury selection April 30.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at