Jury trial begins in church theft case

The case against a woman accused of defrauding a pair of Westside Catholic churches of more than $20,000 over six years moved forward in 5th Circuit Court yesterday as a pool of almost 50 potential jurors was whittled down to the 12 that will deliberate over the case, plus three alternates.

According to deputy prosecution attorney Mauna Kea Trask, Daria Bruce, 62, of ‘Ele‘ele, is accused of embezzling from Kalaheo’s Holy Cross Church and ‘Ele‘ele’s Sacred Heart Parish between January 1999 and April 2005.

According to section 708-830, subsection 5 of the Hawai‘i Revised Statutes, a person commits theft if “having control over the disposition of services of another to which a person is not entitled, the person intentionally diverts those services to the person’s own benefit or to the benefit of a person not entitled thereto.”

Bruce was indicted in January 2006 for first-degree theft, a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. First-degree theft requires that the value of stolen property exceeds $20,000.

The jury trial was originally scheduled to begin in May 2006 but was postponed nine different times before Chief Judge Randal Valenciano denied a 10th motion to continue the case last Tuesday.

The volume of prosecution witnesses and the possibility of jurors having previous knowledge and opinions of the case, widely discussed amongst Catholic Filipino parishioners, made finding unbiased, unconnected jurors a particularly daunting task that took some six hours yesterday.

Valenciano said that the trial was expected to last two to three weeks. Opening statements and witness testimony are set to commence today.

Bruce has no prior convictions in the state of Hawai‘i, according to Kaua‘i Police Department records.

Defense attorney William Feldhacker declined to comment.

In other Circuit Court matters, the jury trial of Kilauea resident Filmer Jornacion for three counts of sexual assault was delayed indefinitely because Jornacion, out on $30,000 bail, did not appear. The bail was revoked and a bench warrant ws issued for his arrest.

• Michael Levine, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or via e-mail at mlevine@kauaipubco.com

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