WAILUKU – The victim’s wife seeking justice, a Makawao man was arrested on Tuesday to spend two years in prison for punching another man to cause his death.
Maui Kimo Fernandez, 49, was also placed on 10 years probation as part of his sentence.
He had pleaded guilty to manslaughter for recklessly causing the death of 50-year-old Kahului resident Paul Stepper. He fell and died after being hit by Fernandez on July 24, 2018, while the pair were working at Kahului Airport during the construction of rental car facilities.
Assistant District Attorney Mike Kagami said Fernandez lied to police, saying Stepper fell and he didn’t know what happened.
“But we know that’s not true,” Kagami said. “According to an independent witness, it all happened over a soda.”
An investigation showed Fernandez was angry and said he was going to confront Stepper because he took Fernandez’s soda earlier in the day, Kagami said.
He said the witness told police that Fernandez approached Stepper and punched him. Stepper was taken to hospital and died two days later.
A plea agreement between defense and prosecution recommended probation rather than a 20-year prison sentence for Fernandez.
Kagami said the deal “Reflects the fact that, yes, it was a punch.”
He said the prison sentence was necessary to reflect the seriousness of the charge and deter others from committing similar crimes.
Deputy Public Defender Zach Raidmae asked the court to consider sparing Fernandez from any further jail time.
Fernandez apologized for what happened, Raidmae said.
“It’s almost like an explosive moment of reality” he said. “It’s unbelievable what happened.”
When someone is hit, “most of the time their face hurts, maybe a bone breaks”, said Raidmae.
“We know that sometimes it results in the death of a person, but it is unlikely,” he said. “That’s what’s so surprising about this case.”
Dozens of friends and family showed up at the courthouse in support of Fernandez.
Pastor Greg Dela Cruz of Living Way Church in Wailuku said Fernandez, a carpenter, has helped work with men coming out of prison and struggling with addiction.
“Maui told everyone, ‘I messed up. I shouldn’t have touched him'” Dela Cruz said in court. “Whether he’s inside or out, he’s always going to help people. That’s what he does.
Fernandez said he didn’t foresee what happened.
“It was not a calculated event”, he said. “It was a split second reaction. We were trying to talk about it. I was trying to get a resolution. In a split second, something happened and it got really, really wrong past.
He said he thought Stepper was going to wake up.
“I had to face the consequences of my actions immediately,” Fernandez said. “If I teach responsibility, I must be responsible. Likewise, I teach grace and I teach mercy. My deepest condolences and apologies to everyone involved. We shouldn’t even have to be here in this courtroom.
Kagami said it was clear from the letters submitted to the court that Fernandez “had a positive impact on others.”
“Unfortunately, these two cases do not reflect these qualities,” Kagami said.
Fernandez had also pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a gun in July and August 2018. He said he was not supposed to have guns when he took his nephew hunting at the ranch. ‘Ulupalakua, according to court documents.
Court records show Fernandez was convicted of three counts of first-degree promotion of a harmful drug and two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia in a 1994 case.
Second Circuit Judge Peter Cahill noted that the gun crime, which occurred while the manslaughter case was pending, involved an AR-15 assault rifle.
With the number of people in the courtroom for Fernandez, “obviously he’s done so much good in the community,” said Cahill.
“Distancing yourself from the community, with all the good you have done and will continue to do in the future, is a difficult task. said Cahill.
He read part of a letter from Stepper’s wife which said: “God taught us to forgive those who hurt us. I hope we can all forgive and forgive each other. But for now, justice is what we seek.
“There is spiritual salvation, then there is justice”, said Cahill. “We are not here today for spiritual salvation…but we are here for justice.”
The judge said he had to take the loss of Stepper into consideration. “Make no mistake about it. He’s not here today and there’s a reason he’s not here. said Cahill.
Addressing those in the courtroom gallery, he said: “For everyone, you should think about the person who is not there, because it is just as important as everything Mr. Fernandez has done in the past and everything he will do in the future. This is the justice part.
Fernandez was ordered to pay $17,128 in restitution, including the cost of Stepper’s funeral expenses.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at [email protected]