WAILUKU - After being punched, kicked and hit with baseball bats while he was on the ground outside his West Maui apartment, a man testified he looked up to see defendant Noah Thomas-Francis pouring gasoline on him.
"My whole body was covered in gas," Andy Burkhart said. "One of the other guys said, 'Light this mother------.' "
Testifying Monday at a preliminary hearing for Thomas-Francis, Burkhart said his attackers couldn't get matches to stay lit so they could ignite the gasoline and left as police sirens could be heard and neighbors yelled at the men to stop the attack.
Noah Thomas-Francis listens Monday during a preliminary hearing in Wailuku District Court. He is charged with kidnapping, first-degree robbery and vehicle theft in connection with the March 21 beating and robbery of Honokowai resident Andy Burkhart.
The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo
Burkhart said he recognized two of the men as Thomas-Francis and Brok Carlton. Burkhart said he didn't know the other two, who hit him with baseball bats in the attack at about 9:15 p.m. March 21 outside his second-floor Maui Sands apartment.
After hearing testimony, Wailuku District Judge Blaine Kobayashi ruled there was sufficient evidence to support charges of kidnapping, first-degree robbery and unauthorized control of a propelled vehicle against Thomas-Francis, 34, of Pukalani.
Kobayashi didn't find probable cause for a first-degree assault charge, which was then dismissed.
The night he was attacked, Burkhart said he had left his apartment to go pick up his girlfriend from work when he approached a stairwell at the apartment complex and saw Carlton coming up the steps with Thomas-Francis behind him. Carlton took a swing at Burkhart, who hit back before grabbing Carlton, Burkhart said.
He said they were moving back toward his apartment when he was hit on the head from behind and fell to the ground. Burkhart said he saw two men he didn't know with aluminum baseball bats behind him.
Burkhart said he was in a part of the hallway that is about 4 feet wide when he was dragged a foot or two to a wider area.
He was hit hard in the elbow, Burkhart said, before Carlton tried to zip-tie Burkhart's hands and he saw Thomas-Francis trying to zip-tie Burkhart's feet. Thomas-Francis wasn't successful "cause I was kicking," Burkhart said.
He estimated he was hit "10 or more" times with a baseball bat. He was also kicked in the face and had his head stomped on, Burkhart said.
A photo taken later at the Lahaina police station shows a boot mark on his head left by Thomas-Francis, Burkhart said.
He said his attackers "started to back off and take off" when he heard sirens in the distance and neighbors yelling at them to stop. "I saw Brok take off with my keys and cellphone," Burkhart said.
As Thomas-Francis was leaving, he said that "if I didn't have Brok's money, this was going to keep happening," Burkhart said.
He said Thomas-Francis was referring to money that his former boss Carlton said had been stolen.
"You stole that money?" defense attorney Ben Herren asked Burkhart.
"No," he replied.
Burkhart said he saw Carlton get into the driver's seat of Burkhart's 2002 white BMW X5 and Thomas-Francis get into the passenger seat before the car left the complex.
Police reported finding the car the next day at a beach access at Honokowai.
Herren argued that the charges against Thomas-Francis weren't supported by the evidence. Carlton appeared to initiate the contact and threw the first punch, Herren said, and Thomas-Francis could have been coming to his friend's aid.
Herren noted that Lahaina patrol officer Corey Tom, who interviewed Burkhart that night, testified that Burkhart said it was one of the unknown men who had poured the gasoline.
"At most, Noah kicked him in the head," Herren said.
He said there was no evidence of substantial bodily injury to Burkhart, who suffered bruising and swelling and said a medical examination couldn't confirm a fractured rib.
Deputy Prosecutor Emlyn Higa said Thomas-Francis also was charged as an accomplice who aided or tried to aid the three others in the crimes.
While there were questions about who was the main culprit, "I think it's pretty clear to the court, based on the testimony, that all four individuals were clearly acting in concert on this evening," Judge Kobayashi said.
Herren asked that bail for Thomas-Francis, which had been set at $250,000, be reduced, based on his residence, family ties and job as a self-employed landscaper for 10 years. Thomas-Francis' only prior conviction is for failure to appear seven years ago, Herren said.
He said Thomas-Francis turned himself in when he heard police were looking for him.
Higa asked that bail continue. "There was a threat that they would be coming back until they got satisfaction," Higa said. "Given the facts of what they did, I think we have to take seriously that threat."
Kobayashi reduced bail to $175,000, based on the dismissal of one charge.
He ordered Thomas-Francis to stay at least 100 yards away from Burkhart and his apartment.
Thomas-Francis is scheduled to be arraigned April 11 in 2nd Circuit Court.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled today for Carlton, 39, of Kihei.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.