Capobianco Murder Trial Day 8: Cross Examination Continues
The Capobianco murder trial entered it’s eighth day on Monday with lead detective Wendell Loo still being cross-examined by the defense team.
Steven Capobianco is accused of killing his ex-girlfriend, Charli Scott, who was 27-years-old and five months pregnant when she went missing in February of 2014. He is also charged with setting her vehicle on fire. He entered a not-guilty plea to the charges on July 15, 2014.
Before the jury joined on Monday, the defense brought to the judge’s attention that most of the video evidence so far in the trial was brought to them last minute. The defense stated that the Matthew McCormick interview and statement wasn’t provided to them until last minute and that they haven’t been provided the video yet.
The defense also noted that the recording with Brooke Scott (one of Scott’s sisters) with Detective Loo was promised to the defense on Saturday afternoon. However, after checking their office all day Saturday, defense attorneys say the tape wasn’t dropped off until sometime Sunday. They added that even the second interview with Steven Capobianco wasn’t provided to the defense until last minute as well, in which the defense said, “in any other time that would be grounds for a mistrial.”
The defense added, “it puts us at a disadvantage, it’s the middle of the trial, this is coming to us during cross-examination, it’s a huge disadvantage.”
The jury arrived after fifteen minutes, and the trial resumed.
Jon Apo, the lead defense attorney in the case, started questioning Detective Loo regarding an interview with Matthew McCormick from Feb. 26, 2014. Apo asked Loo again if McCormick was interviewed as an accomplice in the case and Loo stated that he was a person-of-interest at that time.
Apo asked Loo if he practices having a pre-interview before an interview on a tape recording, so, according to Apo, “(Loo) can fair out information you want out of the recorder.”
Loo mentioned he does have a pre-interview before going on a tape recording interview. Loo also noted, “if it’s a long interview, if you want to sit there and listen to something for two hours or after I talk to somebody and we get the gist of the investigation, instead of (a whole) tape interview it’s condensed to 30 minutes but it has highlights of the investigation.”
Apo asked if the tape of McCormick’s interview on Feb. 26, 2014, was edited, and Loo replied, “no.”
“So the pre-interview interview allows you to then sift out what you want in the interview and what you don’t want out of the recorded interview?” Apo asked.
“With pre-interview, we get down to what we’re investigating, not all the other stuff,” Loo replied.
Apo asked if the McCormick interview had a pre-interview before it was recorded. Loo couldn’t say if he did or did not.
“You say you interview McCormick regarding an accomplice theory, to see if he was an accomplice?” Apo asked. Loo replied, “yes.”
“An accomplice of Capobianco?” Apo added. “Yes, sir, if he might have been involved, yes sir,” Loo replied.
Apo asked why Loo wanted to question McCormick about being an accomplice and asked if Loo interviewed McCormick based on things he was told or based on the investigation. Loo said he interviewed McCormick based on things he was told by other investigators.
“Was Kimberlyn Scott [Charli Scott’s mother] one of your sources of information?” Apo asked.
“No,” said Loo.
Apo then asked how long the interview was with McCormick to which Loo looked at a transcript and said it was about a 40 minute interview.
The examination then led to another interview that took place on Feb. 27, 2014 with Capobianco’s female cousin. Loo mentioned that after conversations with other investigators they suggest he talk to her.
“As a primary investigator, you just follow what other investigators tell you?” Apo asked.
“I listen to everyone’s input in the case and if we come to a common conclusion, then yes,” Loo replied.
Loo stated that he reached out to Cappobianco’s cousin.
“Is that because you knew she was traveling around with Capobianco?” Apo asked.
Apo asked if the reason Loo had the cousin come in was to arrange other interviews with Capobianco. Loo said it wasn’t.
After interview with Capobianco’s cousin; Loo, Capobianco and Det. Nelson Hamilton took a drive towards Hāna so they could see where his car was when it stalled out. Loo said the whole drive was about two and a half hours long.
Apo asked if the “ultimate result” of his interview with Capobianco’s cousin “was a two and a half hour interview with Steven?”
Loo replied, “We asked him if he would voluntarily show us the route to where his car stalled and he agreed on that very day.”
Apo noted that after the drive to Hāna, Loo asked Capobianco for consent to search his house and vehicle. Apo asked what Loo was looking for while searching his residence.
Apo: “What in particular were you looking for evidence for?”
Loo: “I don’t understand.”
Apo: “You were looking for evidence…”
Loo: “Me and other detectives, yes sir.”
Apo: “If you were searching his residence on the 27th, what items of evidentiary value were you looking for?”
Loo: “Any evidence that would connect to this investigation, sir.”
Apo: “Were you looking for dismembered body parts?”
Loo: “Anything that was with this case yes sir, even dismembered body parts.”
Apo: “Because you had a dismemberment theory at this point?”
Loo: “Yes, sir.”
Apo noted that after the search, Loo requested another interview with Capobianco the following day. That interview took place around 11 a.m. on Feb. 28.
Apo asked if Loo’s main intention in that interview was to try and “catch Capobianco in lies.” Loo replied, “yes.”
Apo then brought up a development on March 7, regarding a property search.
Loo said he did a search effort on the property and brought in cadaver dogs from Honolulu to see if there was any evidence or any parts of Scott hidden in the area.
“You initiated the search based on information you got the day before, about the activation status of Charli’s phone,” Apo added, “you searched on the 8th because of something that happened on the 7th, right?”
Loo was asked how he got the information on the property, he said it was information based on Scott’s cellphone carrier that was provided, “because the phone was still going right?” Apo asked.
Loo states he wasn’t certain if he was going to find anything during the search.
“You went to that property because you believed it to be associated with Capobianco and Scott, so you believe, because they had that area in common in their past?” Apo asked.
Objection by the prosecution was raised.
“How many times did you talk with Kim [Kimberlyn] Scott?” Apo asked. “Three times,” Loo replied.
Apo mentioned Kimberlyn Scott’s (Charli Scott’s mother) statement with Officer Natividad before Loo was assigned the case, stating, “you were informed of a location where Scott believed Charli’s phone was last at.”
Apo then pointed his questioning back to Feb. 14, the day remains from Scott were found.
Apo talked about Loo being at the spot where Scott’s vehicle was found torched near Pe’ahi “Jaws.” Loo said he arrived to the scene around 6 p.m. Apo noted it had been 72 hours into the disappearance of Scott.
Apo pointed out that Loo has experience and training in arson investigations. Apo then asked about the torched vehicle and if he could tell if the vehicle was undetermined, accidental, suspicious or intentional. Loo didn’t mention in a report if the fire, he believed, to be intentional or suspicious.
Apo asked if Loo noticed the battery of the 4-Runner anywhere, to which Loo said he did not.
Apo asked specific questions regarding arson investigations and how fire spreads and asked if MPD reached out to the Maui Fire Department regarding the fire at Pe’ahi.
Apo asked if Loo joined MFD’s James Blando in investigating the vehicle at the Kīhei impound lot. Apo also asked if Loo made note of the fuel intake cover, and Loo said he did.
Apo noted the transmission was still in vehicle and asked about the battery again, Loo couldn’t tell if it was there or not, according to his testimony.
Apo noted that on March 25, Loo mentioned to MFD investigator James Blando that other items were removed from the vehicle before the fire incident.
During testimony, Loo said he didn’t know if there were objects removed prior.
Apo: “Didn’t you tell Blando other items were removed before the fire incident?”
Loo: “I noted to him items were missing when I went to investigate the fire.”
Apo asked Loo if he knew the cause of the fire, there would have been no reason to reach out to investigator Blando of MFD. Loo agreed.
Apo asked Loo if he knew what the cause of the fire was. Loo said he did not know.
Apo: “The report you had to make relative to the investigation as an arson investigation, did you make a report or conclusion for the report?
Loo: “No conclusion, sir.”
Apo: “What was your conclusion?”
Loo: “That the fire was suspicious.”
Apo: “Why is it suspicious?”
Loo: “Looking at the overall picture of the vehicle, what I observed on the vehicle some of the burns – it appeared suspicious to me that this car just caught fire by itself.”
Apo: “This car is out in an abandoned area known for charring of vehicles, right?”
Loo: “Yes, sir.”
Apo: “Isn’t it obvious it was intentionally set?”
Loo: “It wasn’t obvious at first, no sir.”
Apo: “It didn’t drive itself there and set itself on fire right? You need an investigator to see if a car drove itself there and set itself on fire? A nine-year-old kid could tell you that…”
An objection was raised by the prosecution.
Apo asked Loo if it took more than 5 seconds to know a burn pattern or to know if someone intentionally burned the vehicle, Loo replied “it would take more than five seconds sir.”
Apo asked if by Feb. 12, Loo was still searching for Scott and Loo agreed.
Loo mentioned there wasn’t any testing done that night at “Jaws” and that nothing was collected from the ground either.
“You would be checking for fingerprints on items?” Apo asked. Loo replied, “yes.”
Apo asked Loo if he ever saw any remembrance of half a surfboard at the scene. Loo couldn’t recall.
“If there was such an item, it might be appropriate to test it for fingerprints?” Apo asked.
“If involved in this case, yes sir.” Loo replied.
Apo asked if he tested a surfboard, Loo said he didn’t recall a surfboard being there.
Apo showed a picture to Loo and asked if he could see a half a surfboard laying in the photo. Loo replied, “there’s a piece of what appears may be a surfboard, yes sir.”
Apo noted that the part of the surfboard was never collected or tested as evidence.
Apo: “You’re looking for Charli, you see anything else of evidentiary value – did you touch that surfboard at any time?”
Loo: “I don’t recall if I touched it, we looked at it, I believe.”
Apo added Loo identified Scott’s vehicle by her license plate. Apo also pointed to the fact that a lot of cars are burned at “Jaws,” and that for people with criminal behavior, it’s a common practice for criminals to switch license plates on vehicles. Apo asked if Loo searched for a VIN number on the car or if a partial VIN was found, Loo said there he couldn’t recall a VIN number being found.
Apo asked if there were smudge marks found on the hood of the vehicle.
Loo: “Smudge marks? What do you mean by smudge marks?”
Apo: “Did you observe anything indicating someone had touched that vehicle after it was burned?”
Apo: “You can’t remember if there were smudges, if someone had touched it?”
Loo: “I can’t recall.”
Loo mentioned he didn’t know how the vehicle was tipped over. Apo brought up theories to how it could have been tipped over but Loo couldn’t state how or if he had seen any contact marks made on Scott’s vehicle to suggest how it was tipped over.
After the lunch recess Apo mentioned the missing doors from Scott’s burned vehicle. Apo asked if the doors were ever found, which Loo said they were.
Apo asked about a lighter that was found in one of the doors and asked if any testing was done on the lighter but Loo didn’t recall if any testing was done on the lighter.
Loo also mentioned he wouldn’t know if the doors were burned with the car or taken off before it was burned.
Apo also asked why no phone calls were made to MFD regarding the vehicle fire.
“Did you make a trip out to “Parquats” area prior to Feb. 12 assignment at “Jaws?” Apo asked.
Loo said he had not.
“You spoke with Kim Scott, one of the things she gave you information about was this ping from (Charli’s) cellphone that she told you about.” Apo stated. “Yes, sir,” Loo replied.
Apo asked if Kim Scott showed Loo the ping from her phone or a screenshot of the location, and Loo said she might have.
“So you knew of the spot on Feb. 11,” Apo asked. Loo told him he didn’t personally go check the area where the ping came from but had asked Hāna district officers (the commander at the time) to check it out.
“You asked him to search it again?” Apo asked. “Yes, sir,” Loo replied.
The ping was related to Nua‘ailua Bay, according to Kim Scott’s statement to officers.
Loo sent people to the Honomanū area, the area before Nua‘ailua, on Feb. 11, but didn’t make it out to the area himself until Feb. 13.
“I only knew about Honomanū Bay, we were searching “Jaws” then making our way towards Hāna, I went down to Honomanū Bay, didn’t get to Nua’ailua,” Loo stated.
Apo started to ask about the volunteers that were looking for Scott, mentioning there were volunteers from “Jaws” to Nāhiku on Feb. 13 and not just MPD. When asked how many volunteers there might have been, Loo said he couldn’t put a number to it.
“You have no idea if there were volunteers planting evidence then?” Apo asked.
The prosecution raised an objection.
“How is that not a fair question, he’s insisting he doesn’t know.” Apo stated.
The prosecution objected again.
“If you don’t know who they (volunteers) are, you don’t know what they’re doing, or if there is any interest like getting Steven in trouble?” Apo asked.
“You don’t know if someone is out there to get Steven?” Apo rephrased the question.
After another recess, Apo brought up Moreira “Mo” Monsalve, a name that was raised during opening arguments. Monsalve was also reported missing on Maui.
Apo asked if there were search parties involved when “Mo” went missing. (Loo was an investigator in that case as well).
Apo: “Was there coordination of search parties?”
Loo: “I don’t recall search efforts conducted by us.”
Apo: Was there coordination between Mo’s family and friends and public and MPD?
Loo: “That I don’t know sir.”
“So at no time did police sit down with the family of Charli Scott? Or did they sit with police and say,’ hey what’s the best way to do our searches, give us tips MPD?’ What’s the best way to conduct these searches?” Apo asked.
Apo brought up crime scene integrity again, as he did earlier last week. “You don’t want any interested party with a vengeance against Steven searching, right?” Apo asked.
Loo didn’t run any criminal background checks on any leaders of the volunteer search or any of the volunteers, according to testimony.
“You don’t know how many people had a vengeance against Steven then?” Apo asked.
Apo pointed to Feb. 13, when Loo testified he was informed of a suspicious sighting. Loo stated it was the edge of a roadway near Mile Post 18 on Hāna Highway.
“It was an edge of a roadway with bushes dropping off a cliff,” Loo said of the area.
Loo noted that on Feb. 13 near Mile Point 18 or 20 in the Wailua area, he requested a helicopter to search the area to see if they could see a body.
Apo asked, “was it your suspicion in looking at that spot that maybe a body went under a guardrail and over the cliff?”
Apo asked if there was a possibility of a body being shoved down the grass area and over the cliff near MP 18, Loo said ‘yes.’ However, there was no DNA swabbed at the area.
Apo asked if Loo took any samples of the grass area, or if he did any testing of the “push off area” for a dead body. “So, you’re completely speculating if a body was pushed down,” Apo asked Loo. “Yes, sir,” Loo replied.
Loo also noted the helicopter never found anything and that no blood samples were tested from the “push off” spot.
Apo brought up a pair of jeans that were found sometime late in the morning of Feb. 13, before he made it out to MP 18.
The jeans were found near Kaumahina State Wayside Park. Apo asked if it was fair to say Loo didn’t know who found the jeans. He agreed.
Apo: “No idea who touched the jeans prior to you seeing them?”
Loo: “No, sir.”
Apo: “How many people were in the area of the jeans when you arrived?”
Loo: “I don’t recall.”
Apo: “People were there though right?”
Loo: “I believe so, sir.”
Apo: “Other than MPD personnel, correct?”
Loo: “Yes, sir.”
Apo: “If a reasonable person found a pair of jeans and you were wondering whose jeans it was, the first thing you would do would be to check the pockets, right?”
Loo mentioned the jeans, when he arrived, were lying on top of some bushes but doesn’t know who touched the jeans before he arrived on the scene.
“Those jeans could have came from somewhere else and placed when you got there?” Apo asked.
Apo mentioned the ‘push off’ area near MP 18 and that Loo had noted in reports that the grass looked like ‘something fell on the ground under the guardrail.’ Apo asked if tests were done in that area to detect the presence of blood. Loo testified that there were no tests to determine blood in that area.
Apo then proceeded to ask Loo about zip ties being located near near the jeans that were found. However, Loo couldn’t recall any zip ties being found. Although the jeans had blood stains on them, “if you saw some zip ties away from those jeans, you would consider those to be of evidentiary value?” Apo asked.
Loo mentioned he did not recall any evidence of any zip ties being found near MP 10, where the jeans were found on Feb. 13.
Apo then brought up Locard’s principal again, and the integrity of DNA evidence found at a crime scene. He talked about the chain of custody of evidence and that it’s for recording who handles evidence and submits evidence.
Loo added that there shouldn’t be unknown people handling that kind of evidence.
Apo argued that it would be considered “contaminated evidence.”
The trial recessed for the day and is set to reconvene on Tuesday morning, July 12, 2016.