Closing arguments in Maui murder trial conclude, jury deliberations begin
August 24, 2022, 9:46 PM HST
* Updated August 25, 5:06 AM
Closing arguments were made on Wednesday in the murder trial involving the disappearance and presumed death of Moreira “Mo” Monsalve in January of 2014. Bernard Brown, Monsalve’s ex-boyfriend is accused of second degree murder, and has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Defense attorney Randall Hironaka called the prosecution’s case a “witch-hunt.” Meanwhile, Deputy Prosecutor Jerry W. Hupp argued that “odd” activity, statements, “mistakes,” and “diversions” by Brown, point towards guilt.
Prosecution says defendant “had a head start”
Deputy Prosecutor, Jerry W. Hupp, started his closing arguments saying, “Moreira Monsalve was with the defendant when she drew her last breath.” He continued: “Only the defendant knows why that night, Jan. 12, 2014, that he chose to do that.”
The prosecution raised potential motives in which Hupp asked, if it was because he realized that she really was moving on, “… that this time the breakup is final?”
The prosecution argued that Brown “covered up,” Monsalve’s death. “No body, no murder, right?” Hupp argued, reminding the jury that someone can be killed “without any evidence, any DNA, any blood.”
“He had a head start. He had time… from Sunday night until Tuesday afternoon,” Hupp argued. He said Brown tried to get out of town, “but ran out of time,” and chose to “talk his way out of it.”
Defense calls the case a “Witch-hunt”
“It is a witch-hunt ladies and gentlemen. Your job is to not be a part of that,” but to “evaluate the evidence fairly, dispassionately, and without prejudice,” Defense attorney Randall Hironaka said in his closing argument on Wednesday morning.
Hironaka told the jury that some witnesses exaggerated prior statements, while others “outright lied.”
He told the jury that they are not there to figure out what happened, but need to determine if the state proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Brown intentionally or knowingly caused Monsalve’s death. “And the answer is, no,” Hironaka argued.
The defense said that although Brown was scheduled to leave on Jan. 14, 2014, he didn’t leave. “He found out latter that day that the Maui Police Department wanted to talk to him… He went to the station,” said Hironaka.
The defense argued that the “witch-hunt” started when Monsalve’s daughter, Alexis Felicilda found out her mom was missing, and recorded a phone call she had with the defendant.
Prosecution outlines “mistakes” and “odd” activity
On Tuesday, when people started asking where Monsalve was, why she didn’t show up to work, and a missing person case was filed, Hupp said, “That’s when the wheels started coming off of his little bus.”
Evidence presented by Special Agent Michael Easter showed that Monsalve arrived at Brown’s ʻĪao Parkside residence shortly before 5 p.m. on Jan. 12, 2014. According to testimony, Brown claimed that Monsalve’s son, Tyson, picked her up from his apartment that same night. But witnesses testified otherwise.
Hupp argued that Brown made “mistakes,” and outlined “odd” activity and statements:
- Prosecutors said it was “odd” that nobody else said there was anything wrong with Monsalve’s car. If Monsalve wanted to take it to the shop, Hupp argued, “why didn’t they go together.” Instead, testimony showed, Brown dropped it off on Monday evening with his roommate. Prosecutors also found it “odd” that Brown did not tell his roommate he was planning to go out of town the following day, “so that she knows he’s not around.”
- In Brown’s interview with police, he claimed Monsalve left her keys in the cupholder of his car. Hupp said it was “odd” she didn’t just leave it in the house as she was leaving.
- Late Sunday night into early Monday morning (Jan. 12-13, 2014), prosecutors say Monsalve’s Facebook updates came from Brown’s IP address, and there were numerous searches on her phone continuing to after 2 a.m. for banks, credit cards, and flights to San Jose, including one in which a flight search had Brown’s name listed as a passenger.
- The prosecution also discussed a 4 second phone call from Monsalve’s phone to Brown’s voicemail at 12:07 a.m. on Jan. 13, 2014. “What’s interesting is his activity stops,” said Hupp, concluding that Brown’s phone was off or he just wasn’t answering. Witnesses testified that Brown said it sounded like the voicemail could have been from a bar or grocery store; but Spec. Agent Easter, testified that the phone was in the vicinity of Brown’s residence, and that browser searches were being conducted on Monsalve’s phone around the same time, the prosecution explained.
- On Monday morning, Jan. 13, an old girlfriend of Brown’s reportedly talked to the defendant. “She says he’s in a panic, and he wants her to get him a disposable phone to pick up when he gets to San Jose,” according to Hupp’s closing argument.
- Hupp said that in a police interview conducted on Tuesday evening, Jan. 14, 2014, Brown “professes his love to her, but he’s not really concerned that she’s missing.”
Defense: some witnesses were “lying” or “not credible”
Hironaka recounted what Brown told police in an interview. “He said he was falling asleep when Monsalve left his apartment on Monday Jan. 12, 2014,” and that he thought she was going to leave with Tyson, her son. He also told police that she didn’t want to drive her car because it was running bad, according to Hironaka.
Although Monsalve’s son Tyson testified that the car did not need to go to the repair shop, Hironaka said “it’s undeniable that he switched cars with his mother that day,” arguing that it’s reasonable that Monsalve would ask Brown to take the vehicle in.
Hironaka asked why, if Brown did something to Monsalve, would he tie his excuse to Tyson picking her up. “That doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
On March 17, 2014, Brown called police to make a harassment complaint against Monsalve’s daughter. The defense told the jury that during that call, Brown “was not lying” when he said “someone else is involved.”
Hironaka however, said there was a list of witnesses that “were lying,” or “not credible,” calling one in particular “a microcosm of the witch-hunt witnesses.”
- The defense alleged that one witness who responded to one of Brown’s Craigslist ads for a table, “lied” about how many times she spoke to police. While that witness went into detail at trial about a conversation with Brown, Hironaka argued that the woman’s story kept “getting worse and worse.”
- An ex-girlfriend of Brown’s reportedly testified that during a phone call on Jan. 13, 2014, the defendant mentioned to her that he was concerned about his phone being tapped. The defense said the woman had seen Brown “paranoid” before. The same woman later told police that Brown asked how to clear a hard drive, but the defense questioned why she didn’t mention the conversation to police earlier.
“Credibility is a big problem. Not for all, but the important ones that the state is relying on, there’s a problem with credibility,” that Hironaka said creates reasonable doubt.
Prosecution discusses importance of dumpster items
Monsalve’s phone was recovered in multiple pieces alongside personal documents in a dumpster at Pāpōhaku Park, located about 0.3 miles from Brown’s residence. “All of those papers, why are they there?… Who dropped them there?” the prosecution asked. “Who would have a reason to clear out everything involved with Mo Monsalve?”
Prosecutors posed the question of why Brown would have been using Monsalve’s phone to conduct browser searches. After Monsalve’s disappearance, her phone was found destroyed and in pieces. “This phone is not recoverable–so the defendant thought,” Hupp argued.
The prosecution also argued that Brown allegedly used “diversions” to send people looking for Monsalve at “bars in Kīhei.” Another “diversion,” that prosecutors said occurred was Brown telling police that Monsalve’s phone will provide answers, yet “knowing that he destroyed it.”
Defense points to lack or absence of evidence
The defense also outlined evidence police collected from Brown’s apartment, vehicle and furniture. “There’s no DNA evidence… no finger prints evidence… no blood evidence… there is no hair or biological evidence saying that Bernard Brown killed Mrs. Monsalve,” said Hironaka.
Hironaka also questioned why, if the defense had access to phone records, they did not present information on who Brown called when he was he was returning back to his apartment after dropping off Monsalve’s vehicle. Brown’s roommate testified that she could hear him say, “I dropped off your car. Sherry is with me. She’s taking me back home.”
“If that conversation existed, they should be able to figure that out,” Hironaka said.
Hironaka spoke of Brown’s relationship with Monsalve saying, “They were generous with each other.” He noted that Monsalve paid for Brown’s phone and phone plan; and Brown let Monsalve and her son live with him.
He also said that despite their breakup, they continued to spend time together, and argued that there was no evidence that pointed toward Brown “desiring” Monsalve’s death.
In his closing argument, Hironaka said the Detective testifying on browser history on Monsalve’s phone could not discern when the searches happened. Hironaka asked if it is “unreasonable” that Monsalve wouldn’t have helped Brown with tickets.
The defense said the financial searches on Monsalve’s phone were “random searches.” Hironaka said Brown would not have to search bank information, or where the nearest ATM was.
He described the recovery of Monsalve’s purse and credit cards, saying those involved had prior arrests or convictions for financial crimes. “What if their cell records put them near Pāpōhaku Park in the middle of the night on Jan. 12, 2014?” he argued.
The defense also detailed cell site location information, saying evidence showed that Brown’s IP address also belonged to Kelly’s Mini Mart, creating “reasonable doubt” in the case.
Hironaka said that proximity was important “because the investigation got information that that night, Jan. 12 , Mrs. Monsalve was going to Lava’s,” Hironaka said, noting the bar is a five minute walk away from Pāpōhaku Park.
Hironaka said there’s “reasonable doubt” about what happened to Monsalve, including doubt about who hurt her, who used her phone, and who might have stolen her credit cards.
Prosecution: “One thing stood in his way”
The prosecution also discussed the witnesses who found the purse and cards, saying they led police to where the items were found in a dumpster and returned the purse. “They returned the credit cards–never used. And they’re supposedly the masterminds here, or is that a diversion too?” Hupp argued.
Hupp further argued that Brown put Monsalve somewhere “in the middle of the night.” He argued that while Brown had time, he did not anticipate mistakes, pointing to the defendant’s statements and behavior, as well as electronic evidence presented from Monsalve’s phone.
“And finally one other thing that stood in his way–there were too many people that knew her, that testified, that had some information in this case… He couldn’t control that… and that’s why putting it all together, the defendant is guilty,” Hupp said.
Deliberations began as the court prepared to break for lunch on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022.
Judge Peter Cahill provided jury instructions, saying the jury must decide what facts were proven.
He pointed toward two elements that the prosecution must prove in order to find the defendant guilty of second degree murder:
- That during or about Jan. 12-13, 2014, that the defendant intentionally, or knowingly engaged in conduct, and;
- That by engaging in that conduct, the defendant intentionally or knowingly caused the death of Monsalve.
Judge Cahill said the decision cannot be based on mere suspicion, imagination, probabilities, or guesswork; but must rely on proof “beyond a reasonable doubt,” based upon reason and common sense.
The judge instructed that the verdict must be unanimous.