A jury found two Native Hawaiian men guilty of hate crime charges for attacking a white homeowner in 2014, KITV reports.
According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Christopher Kunzelman was attacked in the remote village of Kahakuloa while fixing up a house he had just purchased.
The house Kunzelman purchased was only accessible through a private road on property owned by the Kaonohi family. Kaulana Alo-Kaonohi and Levi Aki Jr. were upset that Kunzelman had cut the locks on the gates to the village.
They allegedly chased Kunzelman off the road and beat him with a shovel. Prosecutors claimed they told Kunzelman “no white man is ever going to live here,” but according to the New York Post that statement was not heard in an audio recording taken during the attack. The pair can be heard calling Kunzelman a “haole,” a term used to describe a white person or foreigner.
The men admitted to an attack and were given probation sentences by the state but were not charged with a hate crime at the state level. Kunzelman felt the punishment was not strong enough.
In 2020, the Justice Department decided to pursue a case against the two men. Last week, a jury in Oahu found them guilty of committing a hate crime. They will remain in jail until their sentencing hearing in March and could face up to ten years in prison.
The Kaonohi family wants people to understand that Kaulana is not racist.
“My brother is not a racist guy… Kahakuloa village is not a racist place,” Kawehi Alo-Kaonohi, Kaulana’s brother told KHON 2.
Local lawyers are surprised the federal government decided to pursue the case.
“My opinion is that it’s rare, number one, to see the federal government charge defendants with the same facts and circumstances as the state court. And number two for the federal government to charge a hate crime,” defense attorney Megan Kau told KITV4.
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