Daughter of Missing Maui woman testifies in murder trial against Bernard Brown
August 9, 2022, 5:07 AM HST
* Updated August 9, 8:58 AM
Five individuals testified Monday in the trial for Bernard Brown, who is accused of second degree murder in the disappearance and presumed death of his ex-girlfriend, Moreira “Mo” Monsalve.
The 46-year-old mother of three was last seen on the evening of Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, more than eight years ago, at Brown’s apartment.
Brown has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Alexis Felicilda, Monsalve’s daughter, described the process she went through in reporting her mom missing. Monsalve’s close friends Heather James and Matthew Wilkins discussed how they traveled from the mainland to conduct exhaustive searches, which they say Brown did not attend. Coworker, Stacie Williams, offered to help Monsalve when she broke up with Brown by giving her a place to stay. And Brown’s neighbor Jay Rigsby testified about unusual behavior that he said occurred in the days following Monsalve’s disappearance.
Friend offers shelter
According to testimony, Brown and Monsalve met on an online dating site around May of 2012, and moved in together at Brown’s ʻĪao Parkside residence in the later part of 2012.
A coworker and friend of Monsalve, Stacie Williams, said she got a phone call from Mo in November or December of 2013, saying Bernard had kicked her out, and she needed a place to store groceries she had just purchased. Williams offered her a place to stay, and Monsalve moved in for a couple of weeks to the woman’s six bedroom Wailuku Heights home.
Williams described Monsalve as “very bubbly, happy, a people pleaser, cheerful, loving, caring, and a great listener.” She observed a change in Monsalve’s mood during a Dec. 31, 2013 New Year’s Eve party that the two had planned together at Williams’ home.
“Mo came early and Bernard came later in the evening. They did not come together,” according to Williams’ testimony. “Later she came up and was very upset, and said Bernard had gotten angry at her and left. I didn’t see him at the party after that.”
“Mo was not one to complain,” said Williams, noting that the party was a festive atmosphere. “She didn’t want to bring the mood down, but I could tell she was upset.”
During cleanup, Williams asked Monsalve to spend the night, but she “became very agitated.” Williams said once she agreed to hide Monsalve’s car, Mo agreed to spend the night. On Jan. 1, 2014, the following day, Williams said “Monsalve left with her car.”
Monsalve’s daughter, Alexis Felicilda, said she unfriended Brown on Facebook on Jan. 5, 2014, after learning that Brown and Monsalve had broken up.
Between Jan. 5 and her disappearance on Jan. 12, Monsalve was not living with Brown, but Felicilda said she was aware that her mother did spend time with Brown over that period.
During that time, she was reportedly housesitting for a different coworker.
Timeline on day of disappearance:
According to Felicilda’s testimony, Brown posted to Monsalve’s Facebook page at around 7 p.m. on Jan. 12, “thanking Monsalve for being a good friend,” and talking about how he should be talking with her, but she was playing Candy Crush, and “he didn’t want to disturb her.”
“It was basically a memo saying he was sitting next to her on the couch,” said Felicilda.
Although Felicilda had unfriended Brown, the message appeared on Monsalve’s timeline, and she was still able to see the post he made on her mom’s page.
A couple of days after she reported her mother missing, Felicilda said she saw her mom’s name light up on messenger, “like she was online.” “I messaged: Where are you? What are you doing,” Felicilda testified, but she never got a response.
Felicilda, who served as the conservator of her mother’s estate, said that since her mom’s disappearance, there was no activity on any of her other accounts like hotmail, banking, Microsoft, or Turbotax.
She also testified that clothes her mother was wearing in work surveillance footage taken at around 12:05 p.m. on the day she was last seen, Jan. 12, 2014, were never found. As conservator, she explained that she went through her mother’s belongings, but did not find the shoes, capris or shirt observed in the surveillance imagery.
According to Felicilda, Monsalve had attended a Free Application for Federal Student Aid meeting with her son Tyson on Jan. 12 in the afternoon, and had plans to drop off Felicilda at the airport afterwards.
At around 2:30 p.m., Monsalve picked up Felicilda from the mall. Since Felicilda didn’t need to be at the airport until 3:45 p.m., the two went to the Hang Loose Lounge for happy hour.
“I had just moved back to Maui. I was planning to stay on Oʻahu just a couple of days… coming back Tuesday,” said Felicilda, who was taking the short trip for a friend’s wedding.
In one of her conversations with Brown, Felicilda said Brown told her that Monsalve’s car started stalling out after she had gone to the airport on Sunday, so she went to his house. He said she was there for an hour or an hour and a half, and that Tyson, Monsalve’s youngest son, picked her up between 10 and 10:30 p.m.
In earlier testimony, Tyson reportedly said he did not have plans to pick up his mother that night, and spent the night at a friend’s house instead, according to initial testimony detailed in The Maui News.
A friend and former coworker of Monsalve’s recounted a conversation he had with Brown after Monsalve went missing. According to Matthew Wilkins, Brown said Monsalve left his apartment at around 10-10:30 p.m.
Another friend and former coworker, Heather James said Brown told her he hung out on the couch with Monsalve, and he fell asleep. James said Brown told her that Monsalve “kissed him on the couch at around 10ish,” and was going to have “Tyson or someone else,” pick her up. “Initially it was someone. Later on it was Tyson,” she said.
“He knew that there was an argument outside… and a neighbor yelling to be quiet… around the time Mo left,” according to Wilkins’ testimony. According to Wilkins, Brown noted that Mo did not walk places. “That was not her style,” so Brown suggested that she must’ve gone with someone, and offered different possibilities.
Wilkins said Brown told him that Monsalve came over intending to leave her car with him, and left without explaining who or where she was going.
According to Wilkins, Brown stated that there was a possibility of another romantic relationship and that Monsalve had allegedly informed him of, and that it was possible that whoever she was with was responsible. Wilkins said Brown suggested that, “We needed to find other people.”
Alexis Felicilda reports her mom missing
On Tuesday, Jan. 14, Felicilda said she received a message from her brother Tyson asking if she had talked to their mom.
Felicilda said she hadn’t. She then tried to call her mom’s cell phone, but it “went straight to voicemail with no ring.” Felicilda then called Monsalve’s work phone, but “it just rang and no-one answered,” according to Felicilda.
In the meantime, she called the hospital, and prison/jail to see if her mother was in some kind of trouble. “I was doing my own reconnaissance,” said Felicilda, “checking off where she might have been.”
In a followup attempt, Felicilda called the business’ main office number, and later confirmed that Monsalve had not swiped in since Sunday, Jan. 12, when she stopped in to pick up W2 forms from her office building. The building is located at the Maui Research and Technology Park in Kīhei, where she worked with Schaefer Corp., a contractor to the Air Force.
Felicilda also received confirmation that Monsalve’s belongings were found scattered at the home where she was housesitting, as if she hadn’t packed yet, even though her friends were coming home that day from Europe. “It was not like her,” said Felicilda.
After learning of her mom’s absence at work, Felicilda said she filed a missing persons report with the Maui Police Department.
When she learned of Brown’s post on Monsalve’s Facebook page, Felicilda attempted to call Brown, but she said it went straight to voicemail, and she did not leave a message on her first attempt.
When they did finally talk, Felicilda said she called him, from her friend’s number because her phone was dying, and Brown picked up. It was on Tuesday afternoon between 12:30 and 1 p.m., according to Felicilda.
“Brown said that he had to change his flight. The tickets were $180, but it cost $200 to change it,” Felicilda testified. When asked if he had seen to her mom, Felicilda said Brown explained he was trying to catch a flight that day because had heard from Tyson that nobody had heard from Monsalve. “He said he was in Kmart parking lot,” according to Felicilda.
“I kept asking him what happened that day. Did everything seem alright? Any ideas where she possibly could be?” said Felicilda in Monday’s testimony. She also informed him that the police wanted to ask questions, and suggested that he “should probably head home.”
Neighbor observes Brown cleaning car
A neighbor, who lived across the parking lot from Bernard Brown testified that he observed Brown cleaning his car and taking stickers off of his vehicle in the days following Monsalve’s disappearance.
Jay Rigsby, said he thought the behavior “was unusual for what was going on.”
He had learned about Monsalve’s disappearance through radio and multiple other news outlets in the days prior.
Several days after Brown was observed cleaning the car, Rigsby said police reached out to inquire about the observation.
Friends say Brown did not participate in searches
Matthew Wilkins, an aerospace engineer who met Monsalve while working at Schaefer Corp., maintained a friendship with her even after he moved out of state in 2012.
He described Monsalve as “very outgoing, bubbly,” and an “unfiltered kind of a person.” “She would reveal lots of details about her life,” said Wilkins, noting that Monsalve was “genuine” and “unapologetic.” “It was an easy friendship,” he testified.
Wilkins said he had reservations about Monsalve’s relationship with Brown. “At my wedding I expressed concerns to Mo and told her she needed to make good decisions and be careful… She was confident in being able to handle herself,” said Wilkins.
He found out that Monsalve was missing through Mo’s mother, Helen, who reached out to him. Wilkins in turn called Brown. “He told me he did not learn until 4 p.m. on Monday,” that she was missing, according to Wilkins.
Wilkins and another friend of Monsalve’s, Heather James, both testified that Brown sent them a 4 second long voice mail message that was described as a “purse dial,” or “pocket dial.” Wilkins said he was told it as received at 12:07 a.m. following Monsalve’s disappearance.
James said that three days later, on Jan. 18, Brown offered another voicemail–this one from the past–that he said had similar sounds at the 1 minute and 12 second mark. The 4 minute long voicemail was played for the jury.
“He offered multiple suggestions” of where she could have been to explain the background sounds. “He suggested somewhere in public with loud noise, possibly in a grocery store or bar,” according to Wilkins’ testimony.
According to James, Brown said he had intentions to send the voicemails to police, but she was told that MPD did not receive them, and that’s why she sent the recordings to police herself.
James said that Brown was asked to return Monsalve’s belongings that she left at his apartment including: contact solution, a toothbrush, and sweatpants, “but he would not give back the sweatpants,” she testified.
Both Wilkins and James flew from the mainland to Maui to assist with the search for Monsalve, but said they did not see Brown attend any of the searches.
“He said he didn’t feel welcome a the various searches,” Wilkins said of Brown. He made an effort to go out to bars, which already had flyers up, and “didn’t have any other ideas on where to look, so didn’t.”
“He just indicated that everyone was jumping to conclusions the he was the responsible person, and he thought that was unfair and unjust,” said Wilkins who continued to reach out to Brown via phone until it “became clear that it wasn’t fruitful.”
Wilkins said the search party tried to canvas as much of the island as possible. “It was exhausting from the moment we woke up to moment we went to bed at night,” he said.
“There was a general concern that as a last person to see her, Bernard should help with the searches. I want to believe the best in people,” said Wilkins, noting that Brown had expressed concern about not being welcome.
“We would have loved for him to come, but he didn’t, so that right there said a lot. I was more interested in finding her,” said James.
Over four days, the jury has heard testimony from an estimated 25 witnesses.
The trial began on Aug. 1, and resumes on Tuesday, Aug. 9, in 2nd Circuit Court before Judge Peter Cahill.