LIHUE — A Kapaa woman who got 20 years in jail for methamphetamine withdrew a request to reduce her sentence last week, after her lawyer was unable to find adequate justification for the request among thousands of court documents detailing charges in the four cases against her client.
Kanbert Alapai ran into trouble with the law for the first time in over a decade in February 2015, when a Kauai County park ranger called police to report a woman sleeping in a car and holding an “ice pipe.”
Alapai, 38, woke up to find Kauai police officers surrounding her Jeep and “began screaming and yelling and driving her vehicle back and forth,” according to court documents filed by the state attorney general’s office, which handled Alapai’s cases in lieu of county prosecutors due to a potential conflict of interest.
Alapai continued to “flail violently” during the attempted arrest, forcing police “to physically remove her from the running vehicle and subdue her with their taser,” state prosecutors wrote in a February 2019 memorandum, asking the judge presiding over Alapai’s cases to hand her a 40-year jail sentence and impose tens of thousands of dollars in fines.
Less than a year after the 2015 incident, a police informant told KPD officers that Alapai was distributing methamphetamine, according to state prosecutors. A warrant was issued for Alapai’s arrest, and police found baggies containing about two ounces of meth, a butterfly knife and over $3,000 in cash inside the pickup truck she was driving.
Almost exactly one year later, Alapai ran into trouble again. In February 2017, she was the passenger in a truck driven by Kalei Goodwin, who attempted to run over a KPD officer attempting to serve him with an arrest warrant. Both Goodwin and Alapai were charged with attempted murder.
Four days after the February 2017 incident, Alapai, now with three criminal cases pending, was arrested in a Nissan pickup that police said contained more meth and more cash.
The majority of the charges against Alapai were dropped pursuant to a plea bargain she signed in November 2018, but she still faced two class A felonies, each of which are punishable by up to 20 years incarceration.
Prosecutors in the state attorney general’s office asked for the maximum sentence and got it, but Alapai’s lawyer, Shaylene Iseri, said she doesn’t understand how a non-violent drug offender was not offered the chance to plead to a lesser offense.
“I mean, everybody gets a B or a C,” she said, referencing Hawaii’s two lesser felony classes, which carry 10- and five-year prison terms respectively. “And I can attest to that.”
Iseri said Alapai was treated differently than any other defendant she has seen in her 30-year career as a lawyer. When asked why her clients was pursued aggressively by state prosecutors, Iseri said, “I have no idea. I guess it’s because it was originally an attempted murder case.”
Alapai’s sentence was an unusually severe one by Kauai standards. By comparison, Henry Dorati, who was charged in 2018 with a five felonies for receiving heroin and methamphetamine in the mail, got just 10 years last after reaching a plea agreement with county prosecutors. Dorati’s co-defendant, John Sadler, faced a laundry list of felony counts as well, but also copped a plea bargain and ended up with only 18 months in jail and several years probation.
Part of the reason Alapai got stuck with the relatively harsh jail term is due to state laws governing penalties for felony convictions, according to Iseri, who said she went through “hundreds of pages of reports,” in an unsuccessful attempt to find fresh arguments that might help get her client a reduced sentence.
“You’re either looking at 20 years or two years,” Iseri said. “There’s no other option.”
“That’s just the way sentencing laws are in Hawaii,” stated Deputy Attorney General Albert Cook said, concurring with Iseri’s description of Hawaii’s felony sentencing statutes. “We really don’t have that many options.”
According to Iseri, prosecutors did not have adequate grounds to convict her client of attempted murder, which she called “a trumped up charge for sure” and elected to “punish” Alapai on the drug charges instead.
Goodwin pleaded guilty to attempted assault and was sentenced to 10 years in jail for the February 2017 incident. Alapai’s charge was eventually reduced to a misdeameanor.
“A misdemeanor!” Iseri said. “When have you ever seen the highest charge in the whole state get reduced down to a misdemeanor?”
Cook declined to comment on Iseri’s accusation, but said, “I think we had a good shot too prove the attempted murder charge,” adding that he believed Alapai’s 20-year sentence was appropriate based on the nature and number of the counts against her.
“There was just a multitude of charges,” Cook said Tuesday. “We felt it was a just resolution.”
This was story edited to reflect that the story contained a quote that was taken out of context.
Iseri made the following statement in response to a question about why prosecutors pursued her client so aggressively: “I have no idea. I guess it’s because it was originally an attempted murder case.” The article erroneously said Iseri’s statement was in reference to a question about why the case was handled by the state attorney general’s office.