Dozens of witnesses gave testimony for and against a Seattle couple accused of assaulting anti-fascist protesters at the University of Washington in 2017. But it was the witness who didn’t appear who got the most attention from their attorneys during closing arguments in the case Thursday.
Where, the lawyers for Marc and Elizabeth Hokoana asked the jury, was Joshua Phelan Dukes?
Dukes, 35, an avowed anarchist and antifa sympathizer, was shot and critically wounded by Elizabeth Hokoana during the violent demonstrations in the UW’s Red Square, before an appearance by far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos on the evening of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Jan. 20, 2017. Elizabeth Hokoana claimed Dukes had charged her husband with a knife after Marc Hokoana had fired pepper-spray into the crowd to rescue a photographer who was being beaten by antifa protesters.
But Dukes, who works as a computer-security expert, had refused to testify at the trial, claiming through his lawyer, Abigail Cromwell, that he didn’t believe in or trust the U.S. justice system, and prosecutors were left to put on a case without a victim. During closing arguments after a five-week trial, his absence was used by defense attorneys to raise questions about the validity of the state’s case. Why didn’t he testify? they asked. What was the state hiding? The King County Prosecutor’s Office could have had Dukes arrested as a material witness, but Senior Deputy Prosecutor Raam Wong said before the trial that he would not do that. Dukes had nearly died from his wound, and he and his partner were expecting a child.
However, that information wasn’t shared with the jury, and the panel retired Thursday for deliberations with the questions raised by the Hokoanas’ lawyers left unanswered.
“Reasonable doubt can be a lack of evidence,” said Steven Wells, who is defending Elizabeth Hokoana against first-degree charges that could send her to prison for up to 15 years. “Mr. Dukes isn’t here.”
“No way is Elizabeth Hokoana a criminal,” he told the jury. “She just wants to go home to her husband.”
Marc Hokoana’s lawyer, Kim Gordon, sat on the witness stand during part of her argument, pointedly stating that dozens of witnesses, including Marc and Elizabeth Hokoana, sat in that seat and told their stories face-to-face with the jury. Her client is charged with fourth-degree assault for using pepper spray on the crowd and could go to jail for three months.
“Witness after witness took time out to look you in the eyes,” Gordon said. “Everyone but Joshua Dukes … the elephant not in the courtroom.” The prosecution, she said, had the “power to compel, to arrest” Dukes and put him on the stand, but did not do it. “They knew exactly what Joshua Dukes would tell you, and they are not sharing.”
“What does that say about the state?” she asked. “How big of a maggot is that in the state’s candy bar?”
Both the defense and prosecution urged jurors to watch the extensive cellphone videos of the tumultuous protests that were central to the case, both sides claiming it proved their cases. The defense — largely through the testimony of the Hokoanas — gave mostly benign explanations for what occurred in Red Square and the day before, when Marc Hokoana exchanged giddy social media messages with a friend talking about “cracking skulls” of “snowflakes” — a pejorative term used to describe people who opposed Trump’s election.
Marc Hokoana told his friend he was “going full melee” — a gaming term referring to hand-to-hand combat — but that his wife, Elizabeth, would be armed. He carried a tactical knife and pepper spray. She had a 9 mm Glock semiautomatic handgun.
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Wong, in his closing argument, referenced the plot of the 1944 film “Gaslight,” where a woman played by actress Ingrid Bergman is led to believe she is going mad by her husband, who slowly lowers the lights in their home but denies it is getting darker. Like the film, Wong said, the Hokoanas point to the videos of that night “and would have you believe that nothing is as it appears.”
“But the lights shine bright in this courtroom,” Wong said. “Marc and Elizabeth cannot dim the light on the truth.”
And the truth is that their actions before and during that night were intended to incite the antifa protesters, Wong insisted. He pointed out that Marc Hokoana was in a fight within eight minutes of arriving on campus, and was involved in a total of five altercations before the shooting.
“He went there to crack skulls and cause a melee,” Wong said. “It certainly appears that’s what he did.”
Wong was critical of Dukes and other violent antifa protesters that night, saying what happened on campus was “cruel and abhorrent.” People in line to see Yiannopoulos were pelted with bottles, paint and rocks. Some were pulled into a large crowd of black-clad protesters and beaten.
“But this is not their trial,” he said. “We don’t judge people for how they dress or their politics.”
Given that both defendants have acknowledged their actions — Marc Hokoana in using a “pepper-blaster” gun on the crowd and Elizabeth Hokoana for shooting Dukes point-blank in the belly — Wong said the only thing left for the jurors to decide was whether those actions were reasonable or reckless. The video and almost all of the witness testimony, he said, showed that “Marc was the very definition of reckless.”
He said the couple invented their stories to fit the facts as they emerged after the incident, pointing to discrepancies in their earlier statements and their testimony on the witness stand. Elizabeth Hokoana, for instance, never mentioned a knife when she and Marc Hokoana turned themselves in to police the night of the shooting. The first time she brought that up was nearly two months later, after the defense knew that police had found a pocket knife and a Leatherman tool in Dukes’ clothing.
She was the only person who saw a knife. No other witness in the trial saw a blade, and none was found in Red Square when police searched later.
“Isn’t it convenient for her that she sees the one thing that nobody else can see?” Wong asked. He also questioned her claim that she did not remember pulling the trigger on her Glock 9 mm handgun, but says she remembers aiming at Dukes’ stomach.
Both Marc and Elizabeth Hokoana were immersed in playing tabletop war games, and she had read numerous books after firearms and self-defense but had never received any formal training. She was afraid of the world, he said, after she moved out of Marc Hokoana’s parents’ home in Lacey, Wash., and after once witnessing a police chase that ended in a shootout. She said she never left home without a gun.
“When you see a threat around every corner, it’s going to affect how you see the world,” Wong said.
“Her actions are squarely on the side of unreasonable,” the prosecutor said. “To press the muzzle of a gun into the abdomen of an unarmed man who was being restrained, you have to say ‘No way.’ ”
Given her reaction, he concluded, “I think we have to thank God that Elizabeth Hokoana wasn’t around for every other scuffle that night. Under her definition of reasonable, there would have been gunfire all night.”