LIHUE — Nicholas Char met the man he is accused of beating up for the first time Wednesday in a Kauai County courtroom.
“I would like to apologize to Nakana. I apologize to the family. From the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry for what I caused,” he said. “I myself have two daughters and if anything like that would happen to them, I would probably feel the same way you feel toward me right now.”
Char was arrested on Dec. 15, 2015 after police say he punched a man, later identified as Michael Nakana Duarte, in the back of the head, at Kalapkai Joe’s in Lihue.
He was originally charged with assault in the first degree but later pleaded to assault in the second degree.
Char broke into tears when he took the stand in front of Judge Kathleen Watanabe before being sentenced.
“I have no recollection of what happened that night and I’ve been working my way to never drinking again,” Char said. “I ask for a second chance in re-starting my life.”
After hearing testimony from Char, his lawyer, Mark Zenger, Duarte and Keola Siu, deputy prosecuting attorney, Watanabe sentenced the Koloa man to five years in prison.
“The assault was clearly unprovoked. It has been made absolutely clear that you didn’t know him. Mr. Duarte certainly did not initiate any kind of behavior to even warrant you being upset with him about something,” Watanabe said.
On Dec. 14, 2015, Char, 35, ordered four to five rounds of shots and drank six to seven beers at Kalapaki Joe’s. He also picked a fight with a friend, which broke out into the parking lot, Siu said.
Security was called and Char was barred from entering the restaurant.
“He left, but he came back again and started fights with other patrons and was told to leave yet again. When he left, he banged his head against the window of the establishment,” Siu said. “At some point, he snuck back in and went right over to Mr. Duarte. Mr. Duarte had no idea what was coming. He was completely defenseless.”
Duarte’s head hit the concrete floor. The impact caused a lot of blood and left him unconscious, Siu said.
Duarte was taken to Wilcox Memorial Hospital Emergency Room, then medevaced to Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu with life-threatening injuries, including a fractured skull with two bleeding contusions. He was released two weeks later.
“It’s just a miracle Mr. Duarte survived,” Siu said. “He can no longer enjoy his life anymore because there’s a very real risk that if he got another head injury while surfing, he could die because his injury was so serious.”
Since the confrontation, Duarte has lost a lot of motor function and suffers from memory loss. He can no longer work.
On Wednesday, Duarte said his daily life is a struggle.
“It’s definitely something I don’t wish on anyone else,” he said. “I just hope a very strong lesson can be learned from this.”
Duarte’s aunt, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the family is pleased with the sentencing.
“Mr. Char will have plenty of time to think about all the damage he caused. My nephew has suffered irreparable and traumatic brain injuries. He almost died as a result of the unprovoked attack by Mr. Char,” she said. “”We thank God that Nakana survived. We want to thank the judge, the prosecutors, victim/witness, and everyone else who saw this through to the end.”
Zenger asked Watanabe for five years’ probation.
“I represent a lot of people in the criminal justice system, and a lot of them, you expect them to come back and you’re not surprised to see them,” he said. “I can say you’re never going to see this young man again. This is a one time aberration and he doesn’t even remember what he did.”
During the proceedings, Watanabe directly addressed Char.
“I want to impress upon you that the degree of injury you committed on Mr. Duarte, I think you should consider yourself very, very fortunate he wasn’t killed that day,” she said. “We can’t have individuals going up to someone who is enjoying themselves in a public place and have that person punched off a stool for no reason at all. We can’t live in a society that condones that kind of behavior.”