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Defendant testifies: ‘Tell Satan, Kumulipo sent you’

Suspect says he spoke those words before swinging his machete

Kumulipo Sylva took the stand Monday in his murder trial in 2nd Circuit Court. He said that he swung a machete and killed Eduardo Alejandro Cerezo in a bathroom at Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center because the victim was “one of Satan’s minions.” The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photos

WAILUKU — Murder suspect Kumulipo Sylva said he swung a machete at “one of Satan’s minions,” describing how he killed a man in the bathroom at Queen Ka’ahumanu Center last year.

Taking the witness stand Monday afternoon in his 2nd Circuit Court murder trial, Sylva testified that Eduardo Alejandro Cerezo said he was a demon when the Maui Bus that both men were riding stopped at the shopping center the afternoon of March 18, 2018.

“That is when I became angry at him and challenged him to a fight,” Sylva said. “Basically, like, stop trying to scare people. . . . I wanted to teach him one lesson with my fist. I wasn’t trying to kill him. I didn’t want to kill him at that time.”

Sylva, 24, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder of Cerezo, a 35-year-old Makawao resident.

In his opening statement last week, Deputy Public Defender Ben Lowenthal said jurors could find Sylva not guilty by reason of insanity. Lowenthal said evidence would show that Sylva suffered from a mental disorder that caused him to experience delusions so he couldn’t appreciate the wrongness of his actions and conform his behavior to the law.

State psychologist Melissa Vargo testified Monday in 2nd Circuit Court that murder defendant Kumulipo Sylva “believed he was sent by archangel Michael to vanquish all demons on Earth.”

Kyle Keoho testified last week that Sylva was looking “mean” at Cerezo when he and Keoho got on the bus at Pukalani Community Center.

Sylva testified Monday that he “very, very vaguely” remembered anything that happened on the bus until it pulled up at the mall.

Cerezo was walking into the mall near the bus stop when Sylva said he challenged Cerezo to a fight.

“I was yelling at him, ‘Come on, come on, we fight,’ ” Sylva said. “He said, ‘No, no,’ and he walked away.”

Sylva said he also walked away.

Psychiatrist Dr. Martin Blinder testified Monday that he believes defendant Kumulipo Sylva was psychotic at the time of the murder of Eduardo Alejandro Cerezo.

“I found myself somebody’s mostly smoked cigarette,” Sylva said. “I cooled off for a while.”

He said he had to go to the bathroom and went to the second-floor restroom near the Macy’s men’s store.

“I just remember that I walked and I seen him,” Sylva said. “He was standing with that guy and I was, like, they’re probably doing a drug deal or something. In that moment, I don’t know why, I just decided to snap.

“Apparently, I did not think things through very well at all, and I caused harm to someone. Before that point in time, I don’t think that would have happened. But it did.”

“Could you control yourself?” Lowenthal asked.

“I controlled the cane knife pretty well, so let’s say yes, I could have controlled myself,” Sylva replied.

When he saw Cerezo in the bathroom, Sylva said, “an overpowering urge to do what I did occurred in that moment, and that’s why it happened.”

He said he couldn’t remember much about what happened that day and a couple of days before because he was “in a fog” after his mental health medication had been stolen. He was homeless and had gone to the emergency room and had gotten psychiatric medication the night before, Sylva said.

“The person you swung at in the bathroom, what was that person?” Lowenthal asked.

“One of Satan’s minions,” Sylva said. “I told him, ‘Tell Satan, Kumulipo sent you,’ and I swung.

“By the time he hit the ground, I remember putting my cane knife back in the backpack and taking off.”

Sylva said “there was a guy that was not a demon” who ran out of the bathroom and was at the top of the escalators yelling, “Call 911.”

Sylva said he turned to the man and said, “That was a demon, dude” before going into the parking garage and down the stairs.

“If he was allowed to think like most people think and not know that that was a demonic being that I had just dispatched, he would have been freaking out twice as much,” Sylva said. “So I had to tell him.”

Along Wakea Avenue, Sylva said he threw his camouflage jacket under a trash bin because “it was a hindrance.”

Police said Sylva ran to Kahului Community Center, where he buried the machete under leaves and dirt near the tennis courts.

Lowenthal asked Sylva why he did that.

“If I had had that in my backpack when I got arrested, they probably would have seen me as more of a threatening person,” Sylva said. “I knew I needed to hide that if possible just so I wouldn’t have the evidence on me.”

Police arrested Sylva at the park near its fence with Hale Mahaolu. He told police where he had hidden the machete during an interview with detectives the next day.

Before Sylva took the stand, state psychologist Melissa Vargo and psychiatrist Dr. Martin Blinder testified Monday that they believed Sylva wasn’t criminally responsible for killing Cerezo.

In addition to examining Sylva twice, Vargo said she reviewed more than 1,500 pages of records, including police reports and Sylva’s documented history of mental illness. She said it was her diagnosis that Sylva was suffering from schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type, and was experiencing hallucinations and delusions as well as mania and depression.

“He believed he was sent by archangel Michael to vanquish all demons on Earth,” Vargo said.

Sylva had been hospitalized for mental health issues three times, the first two when he attempted suicide, starting on Nov. 29, 2017, Vargo testified. She said he was hospitalized the third time on Jan. 20, 2018, when he went to the hospital asking for a CT scan “because he believed he was cured from his mental illness, and he wanted to prove to the doctors that he was no longer experiencing symptoms of schizoaffective disorder.”

“He had a lack of insight about his mental illness,” she said.

Sylva also went to the emergency room at least 18 other times, sometimes asking for medication that he said he lost, Vargo said.

One of those visits occurred on March 17, 2018, the day before the killing, when Sylva went to get his prescription refilled.

Noting that a doctor’s note from that visit said Sylva “is known to be noncompliant and at this time is not unstable or homicidal or suicidal,” Deputy Prosecutor Carson Tani asked if that would give an accurate assessment of Sylva’s mental state.

“Not necessarily,” Vargo replied.

“The emergency rooms are, unfortunately, overloaded,” she said. “It tells me, unfortunately, that they may have missed some important symptoms.”

In examining Sylva, Vargo said she administered two tests, including one that showed his IQ was “above average.”

She said people who are more intelligent have a tendency to create “more elaborate delusions,” which she believed was the case with Sylva.

Vargo said she believed that at the time of the killing, Sylva was in the active or acute phase of his mental illness. She also said she believed he still was in that phase.

Blinder, who said he has done “several thousand” forensic examinations in more than a half-century as a psychiatrist, said he believed Sylva was psychotic at the time of the killing.

In his examinations, Blinder said he looks for a reason for a defendant’s actions, such as a drug deal gone bad, which would be “unforgivable but understandable.”

In Sylva’s case, “there is no rational reason, but the basic reason is he’s got a mission,” Blinder said.

“He’s got a mission to rid the world of demons, and he’s just getting started,” Blinder said. “This was his delusional mind.”

Deputy Prosecutor Andrew Martin asked if Sylva’s other actions that day, including “fleeing the scene of the slaying, concealing the clothing you were wearing, burying the murder weapon” were “completely consistent with what a perfectly sane person would do.”

Blinder said no.

“A perfectly sane individual would realize the futility of doing that,” he said. “This is a silly effort to avoid responsibility for what he had done.”

Blinder said a sane person might have an accomplice with a car and flee to Mexico.

Judge Richard Bissen is presiding over the trial, which was scheduled to resume today.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.