Elizabeth Hokoana wept on the witness stand Wednesday as she described the moment she shot the man she said was charging her husband with a knife.
But in the hours after she almost killed Joshua Dukes, shooting him point-blank in the belly and leaving him gasping in the arms of strangers on the crimson bricks of Red Square of the University of Washington, the 31-year-old woman walked away, calmly boarded a bus and played a Pokémon video game, according to her testimony in King County Superior Court.
Elizabeth “Lily” Hokoana was the final — and most anticipated — witness in a five-week trial in which she and her husband, Marc Hokoana, are charged with assault during a raucous protest at the UW on the night of President Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017. That night, a raging crowd of anti-fascist protesters clashed with a large group waiting to attend a speech by far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos at Kane Hall. The Hokoanas had purchased tickets and, according to prosecutors, showed up looking for trouble — he carried pepper spray and a curved-blade tactical knife and she was armed with 9 mm Glock handgun in a holster beneath her parka.
Elizabeth Hokoana is charged with first-degree assault with a firearm enhancement, and could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted. Marc Hokoana, also 31, is charged with fourth-degree assault for using pepper-spray against antifa protesters. He could be sentenced to up to three months in jail if convicted. She has claimed self-defense, so must show that she reasonably feared her husband was about to suffer death or serious bodily injury. Washington is a stand-your-ground state, meaning she had no obligation to retreat from the danger.
In nearly three hours of testimony and pointed cross-examination Wednesday, Elizabeth Hokoana tearfully insisted that she fired her gun that night only because Marc’s life hung in the balance. He had just fired his “pepper-blaster” at a group of antifa protesters he said was attacking a 60-year-old photographer for the Southern Poverty Law Center, when the 35-year-old Dukes — a computer-security expert, avowed anarchist and antifa activist — came “barreling through the crowd” and slammed into Marc Hokoana.
Dukes — a big man in a spiked leather jacket and boots — towered over Marc Hokoana, and Elizabeth said he grabbed her husband and was dragging him back into the black-clad crowd she had just seen beating and kicking the photographer. Then, she said, she saw a large, dark-colored blade in Dukes’ hand.
“Did … you shoot Joshua Dukes?” asked her attorney, Steven Wells.
“Yes,” Elizabeth Hokoana said, tears welling in her eyes and her voice starting to crack.
“Why?” asked Wells.
“Because he was going to gut my husband,” she said, weeping before the jury. “The moment I saw that knife there was no doubt in my mind.”
She said she had to do something. “Or I’d never get to say good night to my husband again … my Marky.”
Elizabeth Hokoana said she didn’t recall drawing her handgun or firing it.
“But I must have,” she said. “I was worried he was going to take that blade, and gut my husband with it!”
She says the blade had a dark coating, making it difficult for others to see. None of the other more than 30 witnesses who have testified saw Dukes with a knife that night, and no blade was recovered from the chaotic scene.
Dukes, who spent weeks in the hospital and nearly died from his injuries, has said through an attorney that he refused to participate in the trial because he does not believe in the punitive U.S. justice system. He has indicated he wanted to meet face-to-face with the Hokoanas as part of a “restorative justice” scheme, but they refused.
Senior Deputy Prosecutor Raam Wong, during cross-examination, forced Elizabeth Hokoana to admit she did not mention a knife when she and her husband surrendered at the University of Washington police station later that night. Indeed, Wong picked at several holes in Hokoana’s version of events, highlighting a number of discrepancies in her statements to police the night of the shooting, in an interview months later, and in her and her husband’s testimony during the trial.
She has wavered on when she drew the weapon, and said she recalls aiming it at Dukes’ stomach from inches away but doesn’t recall shooting him.
Still, Elizabeth Hokoana insisted that using deadly force that night was the only way to save Marc Hokoana.
“Knowing everything you know now, would you pull the trigger again?” Wells asked.
“Yes,” she replied, this time in a steady voice. “Because it was either him or my darling.”
Wong, in his cross-examination, had Elizabeth Hokoana recall what happened after the shooting. She said she and her husband walked away from the shooting scene, past several police officers without saying anything. They caught a bus — the wrong one — and then transferred to another. Marc Hokoana testified earlier that his wife was shaken up, but he didn’t know why. He encouraged her to play her portable Nintendo, which she did while they rode the bus.
Elizabeth Hokoana said she was “in shock,” and it was more than an hour later when she looked up from her game and told her husband, “I think I shot that man who attacked you.”
The couple went home, showered, changed clothes and drove to the UW police station, where they walked in with their hands up and said they were reporting a self-defense shooting. Elizabeth Hokoana told the jury she wanted to “tell them that we weren’t guilty,” but admitted under Wong’s questioning that she sat by while police arrested her husband, who was initially believed to be the shooter.
Closing arguments in the trial are scheduled for Thursday before King County Superior Court Judge Kristen Richardson.