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Man indicted for murder on Lanai in 2018

WAILUKU — A Lanai man was indicted last week on a second-degree murder charge stemming from the death of a 46-year-old man in May 2018.

Travis Morita, 36, of Lanai City, pleaded not guilty to the charge Friday following his indictment Oct. 11 by a 2nd Circuit Court grand jury.

Morita turned himself in to police after being indicted last week with his bail initially set at $500,000.

But both Deputy Prosecutor Andrew Martin and defense attorney William Harrison on Friday said that they would honor an agreement made between a different prosecutor and Harrison, calling for $50,000 bail.

The defendant posted a $50,000 bond and was released.

Martin explained that Morita originally was arrested for manslaughter in the case and posted a $50,000 bond and was released. The deputy prosecutor at the time declined to pursue the manslaughter charge pending investigation into second-degree murder.

When the deputy prosecutor notified the defendant’s attorney about the decision to decline charges, an agreement was struck between the two that the bail would be $50,000 regardless of the charges filed in the case, he said.

Martin said he unaware of the agreement when he took over the case several months ago and requested the $500,000 warrant.

“Even though I hadn’t made the agreement myself, once such an agreement is made by one deputy, our entire office is bound by the agreement,” he said.

That led to the reduction of the bail amount on Friday, he said.

A jury trial is scheduled for Dec. 16.

According to police, the charge stems from an incident on May 11, 2018, when police responded to a report of a man injured during a fight at the intersection of Fraser Avenue and Kaumalapau Highway in Lanai City.

Police found Sionetelua Koloi lying on the ground on his right side with injuries to his head and face.

Witnesses told police that the two men had argued at the rear of Morita’s residence. The argument ended when Koloi left. But Koloi later returned to Morita’s residence where another argument escalated into a fight.

According to witnesses, Morita knocked Koloi to the ground, mounted him and punched him in the face multiple times. Bystanders pulled Morita off of Koloi.

Koloi was taken to Lanai Community Hospital in critical condition and died later that night from his injuries.

* This story published Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, has been corrected.