Testimony Begins in Capobianco Murder Trial
The murder trail for Steven Capobianco got underway today following opening statements from both the prosecution and defense telling very different stories of evidence that they plan to present to jurors.
Steven Capobianco faces second degree murder and arson charges in the death of his ex-girlfriend, 27-year-old Charli Scott, who was five months pregnant when she was reported missing in February of 2014. He is accused of killing Scott and setting fire to her vehicle.
During opening statements, Prosecuting attorney Robert Rivera started by pointing to a photograph and saying, “Down this path is the overpowering odor of the stench of death.” He went through a list of evidence that was found at the location including “Scott’s fleshless jawbone, split in two pieces laying six feet apart,” “clumps of red hair strewn about,” fingertips and the nails of her right hand,” and “a pool of maggots.”
Also found at the site were, “Charli’s mangled black bra with cuts and punctures in several places,” a maternity blouse, “with blood-like stains running down the front of it,” and Charli’s long black skirt which had, “20 puncture wounds concentrated right below the waistband.”
Rivera concluded saying, “Down this path is the end of Charli’s dream of becoming a mother.” He said that before she was murdered, Scott was in a “happy place” in her life and was looking forward to giving birth. “One person who did not share that excitement was the father of her unborn child, the defendant,” said Rivera.
In 2009, both worked at Mana Foods in Paia and lived together for some time. Rivera said the defendant would tell his friends that they were “just roommates” and said that Capobianco did not like to take pictures with Scott.
When Capobianco found out Scott was pregnant, Rivera said that he “insisted that she terminate her pregnancy and went with her to Planned Parenthood.” Scott, however, made the decision to become a mother, according to Rivera’s opening statements.
On Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014, Scott’s two sisters and mother saw her for the last time, and late on Monday evening (Feb. 10, 2014), Scott’s mother called police to report that her daughter was missing.
In addressing the jury, Rivera said police spoke with the defendant at his home, where “they heard his ‘first version’ of how he asked Charli to help him fix his newly acquired 4 Runner that he claimed had broken down on the roadside.”
Rivera said two additional “versions” were documented by Detective Wendell Loo. He asserted that there are also different versions of how the defendant sustained injuries to his hands.
Rivera said, “The only reason the defendant claims he had his five month pregnant ex-girlfriend to a remote area past Keanae is that his 4 Runner broke down.” Rivera continued saying, “The testimony of lay witnesses, police officers, the defendant’s mechanic, and FBI will prove to you that that claim is fabricated. Evidence will show that two cell phones went out to the Keanae area on that night. One returned–that was the defendant’s. The one that never returned was Charli’s.”
The prosecution’s opening statement’s also pointed toward testimony that they plan to present from a fire inspector, forensic entomologist and medical examiner. Rivera said a forensic anthropologist conducted a trauma analysis and “found numerous fractures showing dismemberment, blunt force trauma and the removal of flesh using at least one serrated edge blade.”
Rivera said Charli’s blood was also found on a pair of blue jeans that was recovered five miles away from where her jawbone was located.
Capobianco’s Defense attorney John Apo said that evidence to be presented by the prosecution is “subject to contamination and manipulation,” and said it “renders the whole CSI process a joke.”
Apo said his client is, “finally getting his day in court, not in the court of public opinion.” In making his opening statements Apo said, “Rather than conduct any legitimate fair investigation to find out the truth, Steven Capobianco sits here today because everyone from Charli’s family and even his friends had determined him to be guilty by the time he was arrested.”
“Even months before his arrest, Capobianco was being presumed guilty by the police to the exclusion of any other possible witness,” said Apo.
Defense attorneys argued that, “From February 12 (2014), the only investigation conducted was one to determine Steven Capobianco as the responsible and ignore any other possibility, no matter how substantive these other leads may have been.”
Apo said there was, “lack of procedural integrity and complete lack of substance by the time he was arrested.” He continued saying that investigators “refused to seriously investigate anyone other than Steven Capobianco.”
With another woman reported missing on Maui and the public seeking answers, defense attorneys argued that Maui police were tasked with assuring the public that there was no serial murderer. “MPD had no option but to stick Steven as the fall guy,” said Apo. “In this vain, what the evidence will show, is the need to find Steven Capobianco guilty of these crimes.”
Defense attorneys claim Scott’s mother “hated” Capobianco and that her family “relentlessly pursued to focus on him.” Apo said the evidence to be presented by prosecutors includes “the most unusual motivations and pressures to prove Steven guilty by the MPD officers in the case.”
Apo said his client lied to a detective about the case from the start and said the trial will address why Capobianco would lie to a detective and provided the information that he could.
Apo said that evidence will show that Steven Capobianco “did his best under the circumstances” to provide detectives with as much as he knew to the point of addressing where they were on the road.
“Most of the evidence will address the big lie by Steven Capobianco, even though ironically this statement would have proved helpful if taken for informative purposes rather than for guilt purposes,” said Apo.
Defense attorneys assert that the state “does not have any idea how Charli Scott met her death in 2014.” Apo said, “The state has had a very optimistic vision of Steven Capobianco’s guilt,” and has not explored other possibilities.
Defense attorneys said they expect evidence presented by the state will include witnesses testifying to motive, “even though motive is not an element to the charges.”
“We are eager to have this trial,” said Apo, and “eager for you to be the fact finders. We are intent to try this case before a fair and impartial jury.”
Four witnesses testified on Monday before the trial was recessed including: Linda Puppolo, a clinic manager of the Planned Parenthood office on Maui; Ginseng Mileur, a coworker of Steven Capobianco’s who worked with him in the bakery; Dave Rasmusson, the bakery manager at Mana Foods where the defendant was employed; and Peter Gehring, who works to produce GIS mapping images for the County of Maui.
Puppolo testified that Scott came to the clinic on Oct. 25, 2013, and was accompanied by Capobianco. She said that in accordance with the clinic practices, if the Medical Assistant felt things were not going well, or if they felt uncomfortable, she would be called in to complete the interview.
After a few minutes, Puppolo said the Medical Assistant exited the interview room with a demeanor that she described as one of “anxiety.” Puppolo said she went in to complete the interview and abortion screening, and noticed that the client and her companion were not talking.
Puppolo said that during the interview, the defendant said he wasn’t with Charli; and when asked if he was the father, Puppolo testified that Capobianco told her that he “guessed” he was the father.
She described Scott’s demeanor as “in pain,” and said Scott, “was definitely feeling bad about it.”
While offering other options to the patients, Puppolo said that the defendant, “blurted out, ‘but we’re going to go through with it aren’t we,'” to Scott.
“She looked very much in pain, emotional pain,” said Puppolo of Scott.
In an effort to separate the two, as part of the clinic’s protocol relating to coercion, Puppolo said she wanted to give Scott a pregnancy test. “He put up a mild objection,” said Puppolo, noting that the defendant “wanted to go with her for the test,” but she said he complied.
The witness testified that an appointment was for Nov. 2013, for an abortion, but Scott never showed up. When the clinic called to reschedule, an appointment was made for Dec. 5, and Scott was a no-show again. When the clinic followed up, Puppolo said Scott decided not to make another appointment.
Ginseng Mileur, a coworker of Steven Capobianco’s who worked with him in the bakery of Mana Foods was the second person to testify.
He said that some time in late March or early February of 2014, Capobianco asked him, “What would be the best way to get away with murder.” The conversation occurred in the bakery at work in front of two other employees.
Mileur said the question was directed toward him, with Capobianco prefacing the question with, “Hey Ginsing.”
“At first it struck me as a joke,” said Mileur, “I laughed and told him most people are (inaudible) because they kill people who they have close connections to.”
Mileur also testified that the defendant showed up to work on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 with injuries to both hands. He pointed to a photograph that was entered into evidence and noted a dark injury across the back of Capobianco’s right hand, and a smaller mark across the pinky finger of the other hand.
Mileur testified that Capobianco explained to him that the injury occurred while working on a friend’s Honda door and window. According to testimony, Mileur said Capobianco explained that the mechanism caused a cable to wrap around his hands and fingers and that he lost sensation in one of his hands from the injury.
The prosecution established that Capobianco had done some work as a process server for Mileur’s wife who is an attorney, and that the defendant knew Mileur was married to a lawyer.
That morning, Capobianco told Mileur that his ex-girlfriend who was pregnant with his child had gone missing and that police had been to his house. When asked if Capobianco expressed any concern, Mileur said, “only that he needed to get out of work and get involved with the search because it would look bad if he was stuck at work while the search was going on.”
“He knew he was being watched,” said Mileur who described Capobianco’s demeanor as “visibly nervous” and “agitated.”
During that workday, Mileur said Capobianco was, “serious, and out of sorts all day, making weird mistakes at work.” With a batch of pies, Mileur said Capobianco got the ratio mixed up, which “seemed the result of him being nervous.”
During testimony, Mileur also said it was his impression that Capobianco was “mechanically inclined,” in part because he talked about his lifted 4Runner–his excitement about getting it, fixing it, repairing it and his desire to get new tires.
A fellow employee and bakery manager at Mana Foods, Dave Rasmusson, also testified. When asked if the defendant was a simple person, Rasmusson said he was not simple, but someone with whom he had a “high level of trust.”
On Feb. 11, 2014, Rasmusson said Capobianco, “was distracted, made a few mistakes, and his mind was not very present. He kept talking about how Charlie was missing, and how he felt not really focused.”
Rasmusson said Capobianco left a little early that day, and wanted to leave earlier, but was asked to finish a few things. “He said he wanted to go help look for Charlie,” according to Rasmusson.
By Feb. 12th he said Capobianco was back to his “normal joking self,” according to Rasumsson.
A fourth witness, Peter Gehring began testimony about GIS maps he had produced and details of a particular map depicting an area close to Nuaailua Bay in East Maui.
Judge Joseph Cardoza called for a recess until 10 a.m. on Tuesday, June 28, 2016, during which Gehring’s testimony will continue.
*Maui Now’s Nicole Schenfeld contributed to this report.