LIHUE — Jury selection began Monday in the trial of a man accused of killing a young woman in a hit-and-run accident two years ago in Kapaa.
Cody Safadago, 48, could be sentenced to life in jail for allegedly driving through Kapaa at speeds reaching 88 miles an hour before swerving into oncoming traffic and colliding with a car driven by Kayla Huddy-Lemn, a 19-year-old woman who died on the scene.
A hundred Kauai residents were summoned to the Fifth Circuit courtroom of Chief Judge Randal Valenciano Monday morning. The courtroom was so packed for the first few hours that The Garden Island’s reporter was not allowed to sit in on proceedings.
Safadago stood at his lawyer’s shoulder, listening intently and taking notes on a yellow legal pad. He wore a baggy black suit and a light blue shirt. His shoulder length gray hair was tied back in a pony tail.
In addition to manslaughter, Safadago is charged with three other felonies — among them, first-degree negligent homicide — and a handful of misdemeanors related to the incident. Police say Safadago was drunk and driving a stolen car when he allegedly crashed into Huddy-Lemn’s Mazda Sedan on the evening of April 27, 2017.
According to transcripts of grand jury testimony that led to his indictment, police found Safadago, bloody and disheveled, not far from the scene. An officer with the Kauai Police Department who responded to a call for backup told the grand jury he found Safadago suffering injuries that “looked like he was in a vehicle that was in a front-end collision.”
The officer said abrasions he observed on Safadago’s forearms “were very good telltale signs of being a driver of a vehicle when the airbags go off,” and described lacerations under his knees, which were good matches for the damages from a kick panel that had folded down in the cabin of the truck involved in the collision.
At the time of the grand jury proceedings, DNA analysis on the blood found in the truck had not been completed. A forensic DNA analysis expert is on the state’s list of potential witnesses. Among the state’s exhibits are Safadago’s DNA swabs and a carpet sample taken from the truck involved in the accident.
Safadago pleaded not guilty to all charges and declined a plea bargain prosecutors offered him last year. A police officer on the scene told the grand jury Safadago said he was walking by the area when the accident happened and was injured by debris from the crash.
By lunchtime on Monday, the jury panel had been cut in half, but only a handful were dismissed by the end of the day. The 50 or so potential jurors remaining spent most of the afternoon listening to static play over the courtroom speakers — white noise designed to block them from hearing conversations held at the judge’s bench.
When Valenciano asked the jury pool who had either heard or read anything about the case before arriving at court that day, hands went up all over the room. He announced they would have to interview each person individually to determine whether they had been biased by their knowledge of the case, and a collective groan went through the room.
One by one, dozens of potential jurors approached the bench, and white noise drowned out a confidential discussion between the judge, the juror and attorneys on both sides.
By 3:45, those who had learned too much about the case had been either dismissed or told to sit back down. Valenciano moved on to questions about previous trial experience, asking the remaining panel if any of them had served on a jury in a criminal case before. About 10 people raised their hands.
One woman said she was on a jury that found someone not guilty of smuggling drugs. Another delivered a guilty verdict in a heroin-related case in Hong Kong in 1986.
There was a woman who served on juries in two separate trials, convicting one person of kidnapping and another of molestation, a man who had heard a theft case in Massachusetts 30 years ago, and a woman who had been on a jury in San Diego sometime in the 1990s.
A retired policeman said he had testified as a witness during his 31 years as an officer and had later worked with the county prosecuting attorney’s office. Two other people said they were either related to or had some personal or business relationship with criminal defense attorneys.
Apparently none of the experiences warranted dismissal, but the information may be useful as defense and prosecuting attorneys pick up the task of whittling down the pool. The process resumes at 8:30 this morning.
Valenciano said he expects jury selection and opening statements to be complete before the lunch break. If everything proceeds as planned, the state will call its first witness at 1 p.m.