The jury reached a verdict in the trial for Hawaii Island Mayor Billy Kenoi Tuesday.
Kenoi was accused of misusing his government-issued credit card, or pCard, for personal purchases, mostly alcohol-related. He was on trial for four counts of theft — two of those were felony charges — and one count of making a false statement under oath.
The decision, read in a Hilo courtroom at 1:15 p.m. Tuesday, declared Kenoi not guilty on all counts. The mayor mouthed the words “thank you” to the jury.
Five men and seven women had to determine whether Kenoi had unauthorized control over his property, in this case taxpayer money, and if he had the intent to deprive the County of Hawaii. It took them roughly five hours of deliberation over two days to reach a decision.
It wasn’t the outcome deputy attorney general Kevin Takata and deputy prosecuting attorney Michelle Puu wanted. When asked for an interview following the verdict, Takata respectfully declined.
Attorney General Doug Chin said in a statement: “The crime of theft requires proof a person intended to permanently deprive his victim of what he stole. The prosecution argued that not paying back funds to the county of Hawaii until after the press caught him was proof of Mayor Kenoi’s intent. We respect the verdict and thank the jurors for their service.”
The mayor himself also declined to be interviewed, but hinted he would talk when he’s ready.
“We described the false accusations as flimsy. The trial established that characterization was an understatement,” said Kenoi’s attorney, Todd Eddins. “This was an odious attempt to take down a once-in-a-generation good, decent man.”
Supporters in the courtroom began to cry as soon as the verdict was handed down.
“I realize that none of us are perfect. Nobody is,” said Mark Kaili, former Hawaii Island County employee, “but our love for our land, for our people, and to do the right thing before our kua is strong, so we are very pleased and relieved to have heard this final verdict today.”
“I can just say that I think as an island, as a whole, we’re completely relieved as to the not guilty charges and we couldn’t be happier,” said Cyrus Johnasen, Hawaii Island County employee. “I think we speak for most majority of all county workers and citizens of Hawaii County.”
On Monday, the courtroom was packed for closing arguments. The prosecution said that the issue isn’t whether Kenoi is a good mayor. It’s about theft.
“No one is above the law. A person’s position, prominence, or power should not affect the justice they receive,” said Takata. “Ask yourself, is alcohol necessary to establish or maintain relationships? Did the mayor abuse his authority in buying alcohol? He had authority. It’s not unfettered. You don’t get to do whatever you want. Did he abuse his authority? Did he buy too much too often?”
Takata also reiterated the argument that Kenoi only made the reimbursements after media outlets started asking questions.
Meanwhile, the defense argued that Kenoi did not do anything illegal, and that he is allowed to make purchases at his discretion under a “broad and expansive, far-reaching law.”
“Everything’s transparent. This is a county, to-be-reimbursed, expense. He could have made up anything,” argued Eddins. “If someone is stealing, you’d expect to see lack of transparency. In this case, you have computer systems, accounts payable, the director of finance. It’s all out there.”
Eddins admitted that Kenoi violated credit-card policy and the county’s reimbursement process needed improvements.
“You don’t want to blame others. He’s not going to blame others. He’s going to be humble and take responsibility. It wasn’t his most polished moment, but he says there’s no intent to shift any burden,” he said.
He pointed out that “the county was not out one penny” and Kenoi’s decisions were driven purely from working to make Hawaii Island a “wonderful place to live.”