A jury will be asked to decide whether the Inauguration Day 2017 shooting of an anti-fascist demonstrator during violent protests on the University of Washington campus was righteous or reckless.
In opening statements in the assault trial for Marc and Elizabeth Hokoana on Wednesday in King County Superior Court, prosecutors painted the conservative Seattle couple as provocateurs who used the appearance of alt-right polemicist Milo Yiannopoulos at Kane Hall as an excuse to clash with “snowflakes” upset over the election of President Donald Trump, showing up armed and intent on conflict.
“Violence is exactly what Marc and Elizabeth Hokoana planned for and expected,” Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Raam Wong told the nine-woman, five-man panel (two are alternates). “Red Square was a tinder box, and the Hokoanas were intent on lighting the match.”
The defense argued that the couple, both 31, were swept up in an escalating storm of violence and that they resorted to lawful force — the use of pepper spray and a 9 mm handgun — to protect themselves and others when police failed to act as the protest spun out of control. Elizabeth Hokoana, who defense attorney Steven Wells said routinely carried a handgun for self-defense and was licensed and trained in its use, will testify that she shot 35-year-old avowed anarchist Joshua Phelan Dukes, who was armed with a knife, at point-blank range when he grabbed her husband.
“She will testify that if she didn’t pull that trigger, her husband would be gutted,” an emotional Wells told the jury. He said Elizabeth Hokoana has no real memory of shooting Dukes, who nearly died from his injuries. “She just wanted to go home with her husband” and was defending the man she had been in love with since high school.
The case has taken more than two years to come to trial, will involve more than 60 witnesses and could last more than a month. One person the jury won’t hear from is the victim — Dukes, through an attorney, has said he does not trust the criminal-justice system and won’t lend his testimony to a trial he doesn’t believe in.
Elizabeth Hokoana has admitted she shot Dukes, but she has claimed she acted in self-defense.
The trial will turn on whether or not the jury finds she reasonably believed that she or her husband faced an imminent threat of serious bodily harm or death — the legal standard for self-defense.
Elizabeth Hokoana is charged with first-degree assault and faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted. Her husband is charged with third-degree assault for using pepper spray in the crowd and faces up to three months in jail.
Wong, in his opening statement, pointed to social media exchanges between Marc Hokoana and a friend, Brandon Caley, the night before the protests in which Hokoana purported boasted that “If the snowflakes get out of hand” — using a pejorative term for liberals often used by Trump supporters — “I’m just going to wade through their ranks and start cracking skulls.”
In response, Caley asked if he was going to carry a gun. Marc Hokoana indicated he was not but then added that his wife would be “carrying.”
What happened “was not an impulsive act,” Wong said. “It was not one in a moment of fear. They went there to provoke protesters.” Marc Hokoana told his friend that he was going “full melee,” using a gaming term for hand-to-hand combat.
“And full melee is exactly what Marc Hokoana got,” Wong said, pointing out that Marc Hokoana was in a fight within eight minutes of arriving on campus.
“Maybe he was drunk, maybe he was itching for a fight,” Wong said, telling the jury that Hokoana stood out in the crowd, appearing giddy and laughing as he scuffled with black-clad antifa protesters. “That’s exactly what he got.”
The state is relying heavily on cellphone video shot by several people in the crowd, which experts have analyzed and stitched together to show the movements, and in some cases, the conversations between the couple and others in the raucous crowd milling around Red Square the night of Jan. 20, 2017. The video at one point shows Marc Hokoana using a pepper-spray gun in the crowd after a photographer from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) was knocked to the ground.
At another point, Marc Hokoana is heard telling Elizabeth to “calm down, don’t shoot anyone” as she walks through the crowd, her hand beneath her jacket where her Glock handgun was holstered. Later, he is heard saying, “They have to start it!” — which prosecutors say indicates the couple were using self-defense as a pretense.
But defense lawyers gave the jury alternative reasons for those statements. Marc Hokoana’s attorney, Kim Gordon, said he will testify that he was “sucker punched” and that he deployed the pepper spray to defend the 60-year-old SPLC photographer, and that its use was lawful in that circumstance. “He wasn’t trying to start trouble,” Gordon said. “He was trying to stop it.”
“There are two very different ways to interpret these facts,” she said. The violence that night was the result of the antifa protesters who “brought their emotions, anger and fear to the UW,” with the target being the people waiting in line to see Milo Yiannopoulos, including the Hokoanas. Among the antagonists, they said, was Dukes, and they showed a video clip of him laughing as another antifa protester spit in someone’s face.
The video shows the leather-jacket clad Dukes rushing into the crowd and grabbing Marc Hokoana just before he was shot.
Both Gordon and Wells laid the blame for the violence squarely at the feet of riot-gear clad police, who they said stood by as protesters attacked the people waiting outside Kane Hall.
“They set up a dangerous and confusing situation where the people in line were left on their own,” Gordon said. “The situation was ripe for violence.”
In a statement issued last month through his attorney, Dukes explained that he refuses to testify “because punitive justice does not bring closure or healing and will not prevent similar violence in the future.” Dukes had sought to meet face-to-face with the Hokoanas, as part of his belief in “restorative justice,” but they have refused.