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Judge denies request to move Brown’s trial off Maui

He has pleaded not guilty to murder; jury selection will begin next month

Bernard Brown appears with his attorney, Gerald Johnson, for a hearing Wednesday in 2nd Circuit Court. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

WAILUKU — Jury selection is set to begin next month in the trial of Bernard Brown, who is charged with murder in the disappearance of his former girlfriend, after a judge Wednesday denied a defense request to move the trial off Maui.

In seeking the move, defense attorney Gerald Johnson cited the need “to prevent jury contamination,” in light of the publicity generated during the search on Maui for many months of Moreira “Mo” Monsalve.

“We’re very concerned,” Johnson said Wednesday. “Although the publicity has not been terrible lately, when it comes to trial, we expect publicity will be extensive. And we don’t believe Mr. Brown could get a fair trial here on Maui.”

Brown, 50, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder of Monsalve, who was last seen the night of Jan. 12, 2014, at his apartment at Iao Parkside in Wailuku. The 46-year-old mother of three was reported missing two days later. Family members, friends and co-workers described a “volatile relationship” between Brown and Monsalve.

When 2nd Circuit Judge Peter Cahill asked where the trial could be held, Johnson suggested Honolulu.

Cahill questioned whether having the trial on Oahu would generate “the most extreme amount of pretrial publicity,” contrary to the defense goal of limiting such publicity.

“Don’t you think it would have the opposite effect?” Cahill said. “I can’t send it to Egypt.”

The prosecution opposed moving the trial. Deputy Prosecutor J.W. Hupp said the defense hadn’t met the standard of showing “so great a prejudice against the defendant that he cannot obtain a fair and impartial trial in the circuit.”

Judge Cahill said there wasn’t a basis to move the trial at this point.

“There has been some pretrial publicity,” Cahill said. “Undoubtedly, this motion will generate some pretrial publicity.”

He said such issues could be addressed through questioning of potential jurors, as well as “continuous cautionary instructions” to jurors.

“Obviously, this is something that will be top of mind for everybody,” Cahill said. “We’ll have to deal with it.”

Cahill also denied Brown’s request for continuous trial dates, rather than having a break in the trial over the Christmas and New Year’s Day holidays.

Johnson said the defense was concerned that jurors would be exposed to publicity while “out in the community” during the break.

When Cahill asked if Johnson thought the continuous days of trial would eliminate that concern, Johnson said no.

“So what’s the problem?” Cahill said.

He said attorneys should be prepared for the trial to start Nov. 29 with jury selection.

“We are ready to go,” Johnson said.

The trial is expected to last two to three months.

Brown was indicted on the murder charge in September 2019, more than five years after Monsalve’s disappearance. He was arrested in Sacramento, Calif., and brought back to Maui. After the indictment was dismissed without prejudice in December, he was reindicted on the charge by another grand jury.

He is being held in lieu of $1 million bail at the Maui Community Correctional Center.

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

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