Capobianco Trial: Police Recount Discovery of Bra, Jawbone at Nuaʻailua
By Wendy Osher
Two police officers involved in the homicide investigation of Carly “Charli” Scott testified on Tuesday in the ongoing murder trial of Steven Capobianco, who is accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend and setting her vehicle on fire.
Scott was 27-years-old and five months pregnant at the time with an unborn child fathered by the defendant. Capobianco has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
After searching an area where a civilian team had found clothing and personal items believed to be those of the missing woman, police came across a jawbone, clumps of hair and a bra that had investigators shift their focus to a more refined search.
“I think initially we were looking for a body, and by finding something like that, I felt that we needed to do a more detailed search and try to saturate that area with people,” said Captain Richard Dods, Jr. who served as a Lieutenant of the Maui Police Department’s Special Response Team at the time.
Police Special Response Team Called to Nuaʻailua
On Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, Dods said he was contacted by the department’s Criminal Investigation Division and was informed that there was clothing and personal items allegedly belonging to Scott in the area of Nuaʻailua.
The day before, on Thursday, Feb. 13, Scott’s sister, Phaedra Wais, joined civilian searcher Molly Wirth and Max Jones in a search of the area where they found a DVD, shirt, skirt and blanket, along with a hooded sweatshirt, pants and two rolls of tape.
Capt. Dods said police met at the Wailuku Station, and proceeded to the Nuaʻailua area, arriving there during the mid-morning along with some 20 SRT members. Upon arrival, the team met up with members of the Criminal Investigation Division and some others including Molly Wirth, who was part of the civilian group that made the initial discovery.
“They were out by the Hāna Highway on the roadside,” said Capt. Dods, noting that the day’s search had not yet gone down the dirt path towards Nuaʻailua Bay.
Citizen Shows Small Team of Officers Area Where Items Were Recovered
“We proceeded down to where Molly Wirth had showed us where some of the articles were located,” said Capt. Dods. Initially, the police search of the area involved Capt. Dods, along with a detective, an SRT sergeant, Wirth, and possibly another officer, according to his testimony.
“We didn’t want to disturb the area too much,” said Capt. Dods, noting that the other SRT members and officers were told to wait up by the road. “At that point, she (Wirth) led us through the bushes to where some of the articles were found,” said Capt. Dods.
According to Capt. Dods, he tried to keep up with Wirth, who was employed at the time with the Maui Invasive Species Committee, and was familiar with traveling through bushes, according to Capt. Dods.
“The bushes were quite thick,” said Capt. Dods, “I would say at some point, I had, while trying to keep up with her, somewhat slipped and had a branch hit my head, and that’s how thick the brush area was when we went through there,” said Dods.
Eventually he was able to catch up with Wirth. “As we walked down, she pointed to an area where the clothing and the CD or DVD was found.” He continued saying, “She also led us to the river’s edge where the other articles were recovered.”
Initial Sweep of Bushes Conducted from Road to River
“At that point we left that area, went back to the dirt road, and I instructed the SRT officers along with whoever else was there as (part of) a search party, to basically be shoulder to shoulder, roughly 10 yards or so apart from each other, and then we were going to walk the bushes as much as possible from the road all the way to the river,” said Capt. Dods.
According to Capt. Dods, the area where the articles were found by civilians the day before, was left for members of the CID and detectives. “We kind of wanted to not go through that area too much,” he said.
Capt. Dods said the search members started in the area closest to the highway and continued down the dirt road, parallel with the river. According to Capt. Dods, at least 20 to 30 Maui police personnel walked through the brush, “trying to keep in contact. Of course you couldn’t be totally visible the whole time, the brush was thick, but we could communicate via voice,” said Capt. Dods.
According to Capt. Dods, members of the Maui Invasive Species team were part of the search and were positioned, “more on the outside,”close to other officers. “So they weren’t just kind of out on their own, but they were not in close to where the evidence was found,” said Capt. Dods.
“We traversed that area as best as possible. When we finished up, as far as we were lined, we went to where the last person was, and we lined up again, and did the same thing in the same fashion.”
“We continued doing this until we got closest to the ocean. Obviously there were some points that you just could not get through. The brush was just too thick,” Capt. Dods said, noting that the search lasted approximately two hours.
With nothing further recovered at that point, Dods said he lined everybody up, “thinking that the search was over,” and searchers started walking up the dirt road towards the Hāna Highway.
“Needle in a Haystack”: Dods Returns to Retrieve Glasses
“When I was heading through the bushes with Molly, a branch had hit my baseball cap and knocked my sunglasses off. At that point I had told some of the guys I had lost my glasses,” said Capt. Dods. As they were walking along the dirt road, Capt Dods testified that two of the officers, Jeff Platt and Arron Souza, offered to help him find his glasses.
“We started from where we initially entered, and it was just the three of us,” said Capt. Dods, who noted that “an old refrigerator was their starting point.”
“We just kind of worked our way back through where I felt we had traveled. I know I had seen some orange tape on a tree, so I knew we were kind of on the right track going back towards the river, said Capt. Dods.
“As we were getting closer to river, I believe it was Officer Souza, picks up sunglasses, and goes ‘hey,’ you know, he called me L.T., and he says, ‘Are these yours?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ And it was like a needle in a haystack,” said Capt. Dods.
“At that point, being that we were so close to the river’s edge, I kind of showed them where there were still some maggots left on the side of the river. And for whatever reason, we just kind of sort of were searching a little bit more while we were down there,” he said.
Search for Glasses Turns Up Discovery of Black Bra
Capt. Dods said that while he did not maintain visual sight of Officer Souza, he was in hearing distance. Within a couple of minutes of finding his glasses, Capt. Dods said, “he (Officer Souza) just yelled out to me saying that he had found a bra, a black bra with maggots on it.”
“I went to where he was.” said Capt. Dods. “I saw a black bra with what appeared to be maggots on it.”
“After finding the bra, I called everybody back down,” Capt. Dods testified, saying the SRT and detectives were asked to return, but this did not include the MISC members or any citizens.
Finding Prompts More Detailed Sweep:
Clumps of Hair, Jawbone, Maggots Found
“At that point, I had figured that we were going to have to do a more detailed search. I think initially we were looking for a body, and by finding something like that, I felt that we needed to do a more detailed search and try to saturate that area with people,” said Capt. Dods.
“Shortly after that, there was a jawbone found, or what appeared to be a jawbone,” said Capt. Dods.
“There was also I believe some clumps of hair found,” said Capt. Dods, who also described a separate finding of a large pool of maggots that had gathered in one spot, noting that it was in “proximity” to the bra that was found.
“There was a slight odor of decomposition. I know during the search, you could smell it, but it was just kind of just around that specific area,” said Dods.
Dods said the search ended due to darkness and resumed at first light the next day, on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014.
“We all went back to our vehicles and headed back to station to discuss what had occurred,” said Capt. Dods.
“Being that we were looking for a large object, and came across small items, I felt that we needed to go back out again with a more detailed search,” said Dods. That night everyone was told to return in the morning.
Refined Police Sweep Involves Grid: More Evidence Recovered
Members of the police department’s SRT and CID teams met early in the morning on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, to resume searching and stayed at the site the entire day.
“What I decided to try to do was to make a grid and basically from taking the area where the items were found and using that as a middle and going out maybe 40 yards to the mountain side and 40 yards to the ocean side. So I had officers taking crime scene tape from basically the dirt road and then traversing through bushes and making one line all the way to the river, as far as they could get towards the river,” said Capt. Dods.
“This was done where I wanted to make 10 x 10 foot areas to be searched for the grid itself. Once the grid was made, I had a approximately two officers per square or rectangle to try to search those areas,” said Capt. Dods.
He continued, “The detectives were searching from the inside, from the area where the items were already found, and I had my guys starting from the outside working in. So as those areas were cleared from the outside,” Capt. Dods said, the search grid was narrowed down to that specific area.
Capt. Dods said more items were found by police that morning, but he did not personally observe them, so did not testify about the findings.
Path Cleared to Location Where Items were Found:
As part of their work on Saturday, Maui police cleared a path from dirt road area to the location where evidence was located. “We tried to clear that way. I believe we actually used some crime scene tape to give everyone some direction to where that pathway was,” said Capt. Dods.
Prosecuting attorney Robert Rivera asked, “Before you folks cleared this path that’s shown here, was there a path that you saw leading up to the jawbone and black bra that you observed?” Capt. Dods responded saying, “No.”
When asked if police used machetes during the search to make their way through the thick brush, Capt. Dods said they may have been, but he did not observe such activity. “On that initial search, the machetes weren’t really used, if you will, that I remember or (remember) seeing,” Dods said in reference to the initial police search on Friday, Feb. 14, 2014.
According to Capt. Dods, police returned to Nuaʻailua several more times going into March 2014 in which similar grid searches were conducted, but nothing further was discovered.
Informant Paid in Recovery of Doors to Scott’s Vehicle
Capt. Dods said he participated in a search of the Peʻahi area on Thursday, Feb. 13, where Scott’s burned vehicle was found the day before.
“At some point, I felt we needed to try to find the parts of the vehicle that were taken,” said Capt. Dods, who noted that the vehicle’s front grill and doors were among the items that were missing.
“I had made contacts in the area of Peʻahi with some people that I had known and basically asked if he could help me recover these doors for police purposes,” said Capt. Dods.
According to his testimony, Capt. Dods said, “Part of the job that I did was also part of the Fugitive Task Force where we look for people with high risk warrants and what-not, and were familiar with that area of Haʻikū and Peʻahi.”
Capt. Dods said he had spoken with a man named Robert Lee, who he had known for about a year, and asked him if he could help find who took those doors. “I told him that he would be paid somewhat as an informant, but I felt that it was important to retrieve those doors because I was not sure if there was any evidentiary value,” he said.
“I was concerned that being with this case that was pending, that whoever had taken the doors was going to get rid of it, and that’s why I felt like we really needed to have the doors back for that vehicle,” Capt. Dods testified.
Dods said he paid Lee $200 when he produced four doors to the vehicle and that they met at a spot up the road that leads to the Old Maui High School in Hamakuapoko.
Under cross exam, defense attorney Jon Apo asked Dods, “When you talk about paying off someone, Robert Lee, are there any reports or anything like that where you report that so that is accountable?”
Capt. Dods responded saying, “Yes. It would be a receipt,” indicating an, “exchange to Robert Lee for the cash.” Apo continued asking if there is any reason something like that is not done in a regular police report and Capt. Dods responded saying, “When you deal with confidential informants, it’s not something that you document.”
Capt. Dods acknowledged that he interviewed dozens of witnesses in relation to the case.
Apo continued cross exam asking Dods, “If you know someone is implicated in a criminal manner, if they help you out, you’ll be softer on them, is that right, that kind of trade off happens?”
Capt. Dods responded saying, “That’s not necessarily true.” Capt. Dods continued saying, “I don’t have any control over how you would charge an offender.”
During juror questions, Capt. Dods acknowledged that Lee was interviewed, but said, “he (Lee) didn’t seem to be part of the case. And yes, he was eventually paid.”
Recovery of Grill: Man at Residence Has Since Died
“Having been familiar with some of the people that reside in the Haʻikū area, we were going to several different people’s homes to see if they had known who had possibly taken things from that vehicle, and in doing so, found the grill with the skull on it at someone’s house,” said Capt. Dods.
Capt. Dods said the item was found at the residence of Casey Borge. “It was basically in the front yard, in like a little garden. And officer (Jeffrey) Calibuso was with me and recovered the grill.”
During cross exam, Apo asked about Borge about the recovery of grill saying, “Would you agree that as of Oct. of 2015, Casey Borge is no longer with us here on this Earth, that he died.” Dods responded saying, “I believe so.”
Apo continued questioning and asked, “Relative to your testimony of your interaction with Casey Borge, with respect to recovery of the grill, how many times did you have to go to where he lived to try and get that done?”
Capt. Dods responded saying, “I’m not sure, it could have been more than one time.”
During continued cross exam, Capt. Dods was questioned about another individual on the property, noting that both that individual and Borge were interviewed in the case.
Apo continued questioning saying, “When you mention that you were familiar with these people because of your role in the Fugitive Task Force, would it be fair to say that all of these individuals,” which inlcuded Robert Lee, Casey Borge and the other man at the Haʻikū property, “were all known to you in that capacity?”
Capt. Dods responded saying that the man with Borge “would be somebody that might know who may be staying somewhere in the Haʻikū area.”
Apo pursued the line of questioning asking, if all three were “known criminals.” Dods responded saying, “Yes.”
Rivera conducted followup questioning in which Capt. Dods explained further saying, “There are times that these people know kind of what’s going on in the Haʻikū area and sometimes we go to them if they know where somebody may be staying, if they’ve seen somebody in the area, and yeah, sometimes they do give us information.”
On recross exam, Apo asked, “Sometimes they give you information, (but) sometimes they’re out committing crimes, is that correct?” Rivera objected to the questioning saying it calls for speculation and was argumentative, and the objection was sustained by Chief Judge Joseph Cardoza.
Testimony Begins From Next Witness
Capt. Dods concluded his testimony on Tuesday, and was followed by his colleague, Detective Nelson Hamilton, an 18-year veteran of the department.
Hamilton, who has been with the Criminal Investigation Division since 2012, was among the investigators called to assist in the investigation and sweep for evidence at Nauaʻailua.
In the days following Charli Scott’s disappearance, Capobianco had done an interview with police in which he said Scott had picked him up on the night of Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014, and dropped him off at his truck that got stuck Keʻanae on Feb. 8, 2014. According to the account, both headed back to Haʻikū, with Scott following Capobianco in case his vehicle broke down again. Scott was reported missing the next night on Feb. 10, 2014, after she failed to show up for work and did not return phone calls and messages from her family members.
The trial is set to resume at 10 a.m. today, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016.