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Sentence reduced for man serving 30 years in prison for 2002 shooting

The Maui News

WAILUKU — A Napili man who had been serving consecutive prison terms totaling 30 years in the shooting of his former girlfriend had his prison sentence reduced by a decade after his earlier sentence was vacated.

Christopher Espiritu, now 67, was sentenced last month to serve 20-year prison terms for attempted manslaughter and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony at the same time as a 10-year prison term for keeping a firearm in an improper place.

His latest sentencing occurred Dec. 10, nearly two decades after he was arrested for shooting the woman in her Hale Royale apartment unit in Lahaina the night of Dec. 4, 2002. The woman told police she had broken off a relationship with Espiritu after learning he was married, but he continued to call her and leave flowers. That night, she was in her bedroom with another man, who told police he threw Espiritu on the floor before running out.

After shooting her, Espiritu shot himself in the upper chest. When she regained consciousness, she ran to a neighbor’s unit for help. Espiritu fled before police apprehended him a few hours later in a pineapple field near the Kapalua West Maui Airport.

In a trial in 2005, Espiritu was found guilty of second-degree attempted murder, as well as using a firearm in the commission of a separate felony and keeping a pistol in an improper place. In May 2005, he was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole for attempted murder to be served at the same time as 20- and 10-year prison terms for the other two counts.

Espiritu appealed and the Hawaii Supreme Court sent the case back to 2nd Circuit Court for a new trial. The higher court said the prosecutor’s closing arguments misstated the law on extreme mental or emotional disturbance, which is a defense to attempted murder, and the court didn’t adequately correct the misstatement.

Instead of opting for another trial, Espiritu pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of attempted manslaughter as well as use of a firearm in the commission of a separate felony.

In July 2009, Espiritu was sentenced to 20-year prison terms for attempted manslaughter and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. The judge ordered that Espiritu serve those terms concurrently but consecutive to the 10-year prison term for keeping a pistol in an improper place for a total of 30 years.

In March 2020, Espiritu filed a petition arguing that the sentencing judge improperly relied on an expunged case in imposing the consecutive prison terms. In comments during the sentencing hearing, the judge said Espiritu “has previously exhibited a lack of control which has led to violence against other people,” referring to an arrest in 1973 when Espiritu was charged with attempted murder. He entered a no-contest plea to a reduced charge of second-degree assault, was granted a deferral and the case eventually was dismissed.

The prosecution didn’t object to Espiritu’s petition, which followed a 2017 state Supreme Court ruling that it was improper to consider an expunged criminal matter in ordering consecutive sentencing in another case.

In October, the consecutive sentence imposed in Espiritu’s case in 2009 was vacated.

After another judge recused herself from the case, 2nd Circuit Judge Kelsey Kawano sentenced Espiritu on Dec. 10. Kawano wasn’t the judge in any of the prior hearings in the case.

Deputy Prosecutor Carson Tani argued for consecutive sentencing for Espiritu, saying he shot the victim in the face with a .357 Magnum.

“She was very, very lucky to have survived,” Tani said. “It was a point-blank shot.”

He said the bullet exploded in her face and “many of the fragments were a hair’s distance from hitting major arteries.”

In a letter she wrote before Espiritu’s sentencing in 2005, the victim said she wasn’t the same person after the shooting, Tani said.

He said she had worked as a real estate agent and owned a condominium. But after the shooting, she couldn’t work and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, Tani said.

Defense attorney Damir Kouliev asked for concurrent sentencing for Espiritu, who had been incarcerated at Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Ariz., before being transferred back to the Maui Community Correctional Center as part of a transition to work furlough.

“We seek to not minimize the egregiousness of that offense,” Kouliev said. “However, there are a lot of other factors to consider.”

He said Espiritu received an honorable discharge from the military and had a track record of employment. His only prior conviction was for harassment in 1981.

“While in custody, he’s completed all required programming and then some,” Kouliev said. “He has tried to take advantage of every educational opportunity. If he was to remain in custody, there wasn’t much he could do to better himself.

“He makes no excuses for the horrendous offense he committed, over which he had almost 20 years to reflect, ruminate and regret,” Kouliev said in his sentencing memorandum. “He now would like to live out the rest of his years in applying what he has learned to better the community. Espiritu apologized “for my cruel behavior.”

“I am profoundly and deeply sorry for my transgression,” he said in court.

“I would like to express my deepest empathy and greatest sincerity to the victim,” he said. “I have learned a very valuable lesson throughout these years. I will never hurt another person for the rest of my life.

“Through programs I realized what I have done wrong. I have reorganized myself.”

In imposing the concurrent prison terms, Kawano said the sentence was consistent with the concurrent sentencing imposed in 2005 when Espiritu was first sentenced for the crimes.

“There’s nothing new in the record to change the playing field,” Kawano said.

According to the state Department of Public Safety, Espiritu’s next parole hearing is scheduled for August.

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