Capobianco Trial: Haʻikū Man Helps Police Find Missing Doors to 4Runner
A Haʻikū, Maui man who helped police find the missing doors to Charli Scott’s burned vehicle testified on Tuesday in the ongoing murder trial of Steven Capobianco.
Capobianco is standing trial for the murder of his pregnant ex-girlfriend Carly “Charli” Scott. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Scott was 27-years-old and five months pregnant with a child fathered by Capobianco when she went missing in February of 2014.
Robert Lee, 45, testified that he lived on Nāhele Road about a mile away from the Peʻahi or “Jaws” area, where the vehicle was found in February of 2014. He acknowledged during testimony that the area is known for having abandoned vehicles and that he would go to the location to, “look for car parts and abandoned vehicles.”
Lee, who was self-employed at the time as a mechanic, said he was mostly interested in parts that could be claimed for recycling.
Lee testified that he could tell that vehicles that he was taking parts from were abandoned because, “usually there will be parts missing or smashed or turned over or something like that.”
Lee said that during a “random drive through Jaws,” during an evening around the middle part of February of 2014, he, “saw this vehicle that was completely burned, and it didn’t look like anything was wrong with it,” saying he believed it may have been stolen. Lee testified that he was “pretty sure” he saw the vehicle on a Monday night.
Lee described the vehicle as a Toyota 4Runner, and said it didn’t look like anything was salvageable.
Lee said the vehicle was upright on all four wheels and that it was “complete, it was just burnt.” When asked if the doors were still on the vehicle, Lee responded saying, “Yes, it was all intact.” Lee said that he would visit the area to look for parts over a span of five years, but noted that he did not try to get any parts from the burned vehicle.
Lee said that he spoke with another individual who also does salvaging of parts about the vehicle he had seen.
Almost a week after first seeing the vehicle, Lee said Lieutenant Richard Dods, Jr. made a visit to his home and questioned him about the vehicle. Lee testified that that’s when he learned that the vehicle’s doors were missing.
“He came to my residence and asked me about the 4Runner. If I knew what happened to the doors. He was interested in finding the doors. He asked me if I could help him find them. If I knew anyone… just to point him in the right direction or if there was any way I could help him find where the doors went,” Lee said.
“He said we’re here strictly to see if you can help us out and find the doors,” Lee said. “He said if there’s any way you could find out, just point us in the right direction, no names (will) be involved, and we’ll even give you money they said,” according to Lee’s testimony. Prosecuting attorney Robert Lee asked Lee to clarify what he meant by “they,” and Lee said he was referring to Lt. Dods.
Lee said he agreed to help police because the “mention of money,” and testified that it took him about three days to track down the missing doors. Lee called the task “hard,” saying he “asked around,” approaching people that he knew to also salvage vehicle parts.
Lee testified saying, “I found out through asking around that the doors were thrown away at the Old Maui High School area.” He described the area as an area of cane fields. He said he contacted the Lieutenant and met police at the location where he was able to locate the missing doors. “They were just four doors laying down on the floor next to each other,” saying they were located “off the road in the grass,” Lee said.
After leading police to the doors, Lee said he was paid $200 to $300. During the exchange, Lee testified that he was fingerprinted and signed release forms for the money.
Lee was asked about Christopher Fanelli, who also testified earlier in the trial about the burned doors. Lee acknowledged that he knew Fanelli as a person who also salvages parts from abandoned vehicles for recycling.
Lee said he spoke to Fanelli on the same evening after finding the 4Runner at Peʻahi.
In answering the prosecution’s question about his background, Lee acknowledged that he has a criminal history and has served time in 1999 for federal charges, and in the early 1990s for state charges, with convictions for drug offenses.
During the line of questioning, Lee said that his six year old son lives with him and he serves as the primary caregiver for the child.
He said he did not have any convictions for car thefts. He did acknowledge though, that there is a case involving the Unauthorized Control of a Propelled Vehicle, which has not been resolved.
On cross exam, defense attorney Jon Apo said, “Without admitting anything, how do you know you have pending charges?” Lee responded saying he has a court date this month.
In a follow up question, Apo asked, “And you know that if you get convicted of another felony after you’ve already been to prison on a felony, you’re probably going to get prison, right?” Judge Cardoza asked Apo to rephrase the question after an objection was raised based on speculation.
Apo proceeded saying, “You’d agree that you don’t want to go to prison on this new charge, right?” Lee responded saying he didn’t want to go to prison, “for any reason.”
Lee said he was able to work out his living situation on work-trade with a man who has since passed away. A question by the defense inquiring “if he (Lee) was ultimately evicted from the residence,” was not answered because it was deemed by the judge as being “not relevant” to the testimony. When asked if he was living there “unlawfully,” Lee responded saying, “No.”
On cross exam, the defense asked if Lee kept track of days back in 2014, and Lee responded saying, “No.” Defense attorney Jon Apo continued with questioning saying, “You believed that it was a Monday night because Detective Dods told you that night, right?” Lee responded saying, “No.”
Apo proceeded with the line of questioning saying, “For the right amount of money, you’d agree with anything that Detective Dods tells you to say, right.” Lee responded saying, “No.” Apo followed up saying, “do you think that’s funny,” and Lee responded, “Yeah.” Apo continued, “because you know it’s true, right?” Lee said, “No, it’s not true.”
“When you were interviewed by Officer Keoki Santos, you stated to him that you did not call Chris Fanelli about the burned vehicle. Isn’t that accurate?”
“It sounds about right,” Lee said, and testified further saying, “I’m not sure if he called me or if I called him.”
Apo asked Lee if the payment meant that he was a confidential informant, and Lee said, “No,” and explained that he believed the paper he signed was a release form so that the police could keep track of the money he was paid.
Apo asked Lee who he spoke to that gave him the information about where the doors were located and Lee said, “No one ever asked me that.” He further stated that the information was “confidential.” Apo asked, “Did you ever tell Detective Dods who it was,” and Lee responded “No.”
Apo continued, “Fair to say that if Detective Dods didn’t know who it was, he couldn’t follow up with that person’s involvement in anything, right?” Lee responded saying, “No.”
There were no juror questions, and no further questions on re-direct.
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.
On Friday, a forensic entomologist testified about the recovery of maggots from Nuaʻailua Bay, and provided an estimate on the possible time of death. This week, testimony continues on police processing of evidence.
The trial is set to resume on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016, in 2nd Circuit Court.