Detective Testifies in Capobianco Trial: “It Smelled Like Decomposing Humans”
By Wendy Osher
Maui Police Detective Nelson Hamilton offered testimony on Wednesday, describing a police sweep of the Nuaʻailua area of East Maui where he discovered a jawbone fragment, body piercing and fingernails.
He was among the investigators called to assist in the sweep on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, as police looked for Carly “Charli” Scott, who was 27-years-old and five-months pregnant when she was reported missing earlier in that week.
Detective Hamilton, who is an 18-year veteran of the department, said he arrived at Nuaʻailua shortly before 9 a.m., dressed in black boots, blue “battle dress uniform” pants and a long sleeve sweatshirt.
Members of the Maui Police Department’s Special Response Team had set up 10 x 10 foot search grids in a wooded area off of a dirt road that leads down to Nuaʻailua Bay, where police had recovered a black bra, a separate jawbone fragment, and clumps of reddish colored hair the day before.
In subsequent testimony, a Maui orthodontist confirmed that the jawbone was a “match” to the missing woman.
Hamilton Assigned to Area Near Middle of Search Grid
Detective Hamilton said he was assigned to search an area near the middle of the grid, which was located off the Hāna Highway, about 100 feet down the dirt road that leads to Nuaʻailua Bay, and about 175 feet from that dirt road in the brush area.
He said he entered the brush using a path that started near an abandoned refrigerator along the dirt road. Police had cleared the path that extended from the dirt road going west, through the brush, toward the location where evidence was found the day before.
Hamilton said he proceeded about 175 feet down the path and searched in an area just mauka of the path in one of the square grid areas marked off by police tape.
“Myself and one of the Special Response Team officers did a search of that area. We looked on the ground and then moved from one end… and back until we covered the entire area,” said Detective Hamilton.
Hamilton said he walked upright, looking down at the ground, and described the foliage as “kind of short” in the area he searched, without “a lot of obstructions.” He continued saying, “There were leaves here and there, but for the most part, we just walked and looked at the ground.”
After he had cleared that grid, Hamilton and the other officer got out of the marked area and then back on the trail. “At that point, we were awaiting for everyone else to finish searching their grids, and then to be reassigned to the next area to search.”
Hamilton: “It smelled like decomposing humans”
He continued saying, “After we cleared our grid, there was an area about 10 feet to west of where we had searched. And then I noticed that there was a mass of maggots on the ground, probably thousands of them, would be my estimation–moving in a circular formation.”
Detective Hamilton said he walked over to get a better look. “As I got closer, I noticed that the stench, there was a slight stench, but it got stronger as you got closer to that spot, right on the ground where the maggots were,” he said.
When asked to describe the stench, Hamilton said, “It smelled like decomposing humans.”
Detective Observes a “Shiny Silver Colored Round Ball”
“At that point I just watched to see what the maggots were doing and they were moving in kind of a circular formation, clockwise, and I got down on the ground to get a closer look at the maggots, and then at that point I noticed a shiny like silver colored round ball.” said Detective Hamilton.
Detective Hamilton said he squatted down just about as low as he could go. “I didn’t get on my hands and knees at that point. I just got down and squatted. And then as I looked up, I noticed the shiny metal ball kind of in the dirt under a leaf,” he said.
“At that point, I took a stick and lifted up the leaf to look at what it was, and then I noticed it was two metal balls with a metal rod in the middle, a body piercing,” said Detective Hamilton.
Detective Hamilton said he then notified his supervisor and Maui Police Evidence Specialist Anthony Earls came down to photograph the area before anything was moved.
“As soon as it was photographed, he recovered the body piercing, and I noticed that there was some kind of like biological material, or what appeared to be, that was still on the bar,” said Detective Hamilton, saying, “It looked like a chunk of skin.”
“At that point after the piercing was recovered, (and) I started moving towards the south,” said Detective Hamilton.
Evidence Field: Fingernails/Skin Recovered from East to West
“The area where the piercing was found was at a higher point, and then the bottom of the indentation kind of sloped from east to the west from the road towards the river,” said Hamilton
Detective Hamilton said he started at the highest point where the piercing was and started moving towards the mountains.
“At that point, I got down on my hands and knees and I was crawling through the mass of maggots that were on the ground and started working up towards the hill, knowing that we were looking for smaller items at that point. That’s when I noticed what appeared to be a fingernail with some skin attached to it,” said Detective Hamilton.
Hamilton said Earls was called to the area again to photograph and document the finding.
“From that point, I started moving west towards the river and as I moved down, I found three more spots where there appeared to be skin, and then another fingernail, probably about a foot to the south of where the first fingernail was found. From there I continued down and found three more fingernails kind of in a line from east to west,” he said.
“The skin and the fingernail was to the west of the first fingernail that was found. Everything was moving from east to west,” said Detective Hamilton, noting that the east side was toward the dirt road, the west side was toward the river, the south was towards the mountain, and the north was toward the ocean.
Those items were also marked, photographed and recovered by evidence specialist, Anthony Earls.
Detective Hamilton said he did not touch or handle any of the items to avoid contamination and started moving west toward the river as he continued to search.
“After that, we continued searching that area for more items and I believe another what appeared to be bone fragment was recovered from that same general area,” he said.
Police Interview 10 Persons of Interest or Suspects
Hamilton said that as part of the ongoing investigation, he conducted interviews with Captain Richard Dods, and said that together, they had interviewed between 30 and 40 people.
Among that list were 10 individuals who Detective Hamilton had described as either persons of interest or possible suspects.
His purpose in speaking with the individuals, Detective Hamilton said, was to find out if they had anything to do with the case. “If anything piqued our interest,” he said, “we would seek a further statement.”
He was also involved in the Feb. 27, 2014 search of the defendant’s bedroom that was conducted along with members of the Special Response Team and Crime Reduction Unit.
Steven Capobianco is standing trial for the murder of his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Carly “Charli” Scott. he is also accused of 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.
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 in 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 9 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 9, 2016.