Upcountry gas station robbery getaway driver sentenced to 10 years in prison

Defendant accepts plea deal, says he ‘was just running around wild’

WAILUKU — The getaway driver in a gunpoint robbery at Pukalani Chevron told his family and a judge Friday that he was “just running around wild” and ashamed of his actions before being sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Desmond Puu, 37, pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of second-degree robbery. He was originally charged with first-degree robbery, but that charge was dismissed as part of a plea agreement.

The robbery occurred shortly before 9 p.m. on June 7, 2017, at the Chevron store, police said. Puu told police that he was waiting in the car while his co-defendant, Cianna Cruz Wallace, 27, entered the store.

Wallace carried a silver-colored handgun that might have been a heavy airsoft gun, Puu told police. Shortly after going into the store, Wallace came running out, saying, “Come on, let’s go,” Puu told investigators.

A cashier, who testified during a preliminary hearing last year, said she was sitting on a ladder while stocking cigarettes behind the counter next to the cash register the night of the robbery. She said Wallace pointed the gun at her and angrily demanded money.

Police questioned Puu about the robbery after he was arrested June 19, 2017. He was ordered Friday to pay $654.57 to Pukalani Chevron.

Puu’s property offenses stem from crimes committed on March 6 and April 12 and 30.

Wallace was later arrested on Aug. 4. She has pleaded no contest to first-degree robbery, and her sentencing is set for Jan. 11.

Deputy Prosecutor Brandon Segal told the court that the cashier in the case is still “genuinely terrified” because of the robbery and declined to write a letter to the court. He said he spent hours prepping her for trial.

“She believed the gun used in the case was real and has lost her sense of security — even a year after the incident,” Segal said. “She didn’t want to come to court because she’s scared of him and the co-defendant.”

Segal said Puu wrote in his statement to the court that he is a “product of the system,” having come from a broken home and rough childhood. Segal said Puu has had many chances to correct his life, going through drug court, parole and other programs.

“He’s the one who makes the choices,” Segal said. “He’s the one who chooses to not only commit property crimes, but also inflict fear and terror on others in our community. That’s on him. That’s not a product of the system.”

Puu did not blame his family in speaking to the court and said he believed members of his family pointed him in the right direction. He said they raised many other children, and he was the only one in jail.

“I’m ashamed not only for myself, but carrying their names the wrong way,” he said. “There’s nothing that can happen to me today that would affect me more than what I did to my family.”

Puu turned to apologize to his hanai aunt and grandmother and apologized to the store cashier. He acknowledged the opportunities he has had over the years, including the Maui/Molokai Drug Court, which he was removed from after impregnating another client.

“I was just running around wild,” he said. “Honestly, if I was let out today I’d be right back in prison in no time. I really don’t know how to live outside. My decision-making I know is very poor and without thought I just do things.”

Puu said he knows what he did was wrong and does not blame Wallace for what happened that night. During a preliminary hearing, a police detective said Puu indicated that he did not participate in the robbery for the money, but because “he loved her.”

“I knew what I was doing, and I take full responsibility for what happened that night and everything else I’ve done in my life,” Puu said during his sentencing Friday. “Whatever comes my way today, I deserve it and I accept my punishment.”

Second Circuit Court Judge Richard Bissen said he believed Puu’s words were “genuine” and that he received many opportunities from the state and family. He said Puu stole from his own family over the years, and it appeared family members were hoping he’d change.

“The last thing they wanted was to be here today and see you here,” Bissen said. “They wanted everything to work out on its own and to come to the realization you came to right now — that family was more important than instant gratification.”

Puu faced a mandatory-minimum sentence of six years and eight months in prison based on 2013 convictions for two counts of unauthorized control of a propelled vehicle.

Bissen told Puu that his behavior in prison would determine if he serves the full 10 years or earn early release. He said Puu was previously denied parole three times the last time he was in prison, which he called “very rare.”

He allowed Puu to hug his family a last time before being taken to prison.

“I think everybody is hoping you not only just serve this sentence, but try to do something positive,” Bissen said.

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

* The article published Saturday, December 13, 2018 was incorrect in identifying the charges to which Desmond Puu pleaded. The Maui News apologizes for the error.