The alleged ringleader of a brutal home invasion robbery took a plea agreement as jury selection for his trial entered its second day.
Joshua V. Lehauli, 30, was facing 18 counts in connection with the February 2016 assault of a man with a metal baseball bat; he also reportedly held the man at gunpoint while his belongings were stolen. If he had been convicted on all of the counts, Lehauli could well have spent the rest of his life in prison.
Instead, he opted to plead guilty to one count of first-degree assault, one count of first-degree robbery and one count of third-degree misconduct involving weapons, in exchange for a “flat” sentence of 17 years, said Juneau Assistant District Attorney Angie Kemp.
As part of the plea agreement, the federal government agreed it will not charge Lehauli federally as a felon in possession of a firearm.
Lehauli’s trial was set to get under way this week, on charges of kidnapping, unclassified felonies punishable up to 99 years in prison; first-degree robbery and first-degree assault with a bat, class A felonies punishable up to 20 years in prison; second-degree assault with a bat, class B felonies punishable up to 10 years in prison; and third-degree assault with a gun, coercion, first-degree vehicle theft, third-degree misconduct involving weapons and second-degree theft, all of which are class C felonies punishable up to five years in prison.
Jury selection initially was scheduled to begin Monday, but was delayed a day. Tuesday was taken up with jury selection, with Kemp asking potential jurors if they understand what a vigilante is and whether they would condone taking the law into their own hands.
Wednesday morning, Kemp and defense attorney Gregory Parvin informed Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg they had reached a resolution in the case. An obviously distraught Lehauli struggled with the decision, indicating he felt pressure from family members to take the plea agreement. During the hearing, which included a discussion about how long he would have to serve before being eligible for parole, he stopped the proceedings by telling Pallenberg, “At this point, I honestly don’t feel comfortable going through with this. I still think I need to go to trial.”
Pallenberg took a brief recess, telling Lehauli, “I want to give you your chance to have your say.” After that 10-minute break, Lehauli did opt to proceed with the plea agreement. A pre-sentence report was ordered and sentencing was set for Oct. 20.
“It was a difficult decision for him, no question about it,” Parvin said after the hearing. “His decision to waive his right to trial and accept the plea deal was not made lightly, but in the end, was made voluntarily, based on careful consideration of the State’s evidence, and the tremendous risks associated with losing at trial.”
Parvin said his client had a strong defense to the kidnapping charges. But, he noted, had Lehauli lost at trial on the highest level offense, he would have been subject to a potential sentence of up to 99 years.
“Seventeen years is a long time,” Parvin added. “It’s a significant sentence, but one that will allow my client to rehabilitate himself, and return to his family and the community.”
Evidence tied Lehauli to scene of robbery
The Juneau Police Department had arrested Lehauli after detectives tied him to the robbery in the 3200 block of Hospital Drive. Lehauli also allegedly held the victim at gunpoint while three other men took his personal belongings.
JPD learned about the attack when the victim sought medical attention the next day at Bartlett Regional Hospital. Officers investigating the scene found the door open, with blood on the floor and walls, and overturned furniture, as well as a metal baseball bat with blood on it.
The police complaint stated officers found a vehicle Lehauli had been in possession of, with stereo equipment inside that matched items stolen from the assault victim’s residence, as well as a gun that matched the victim’s description as the one Lehauli pointed at him.
According to the police complaint, Lehauli admitted to JPD Detective Matthew DuBois that he had been inside the victim’s apartment and confessed to using a bat to injure the man. Lehauli reportedly said he did not point a gun at anyone, but admitted that he and others carried out property from the victim’s home.
At the time of Lehauli’s arrest, his mother, Elenoa Lehauli, told the Empire her son was acting in retaliation, because the assault victim had previously caused harm to her son’s then-pregnant girlfriend. He also was struggling with a drug addiction, his mother said.
Lehauli is a former Juneau-Douglas High School football star, who was once ranked No. 1 in the state.
Court records online show Lehauli has prior criminal convictions. In 2008, he pleaded guilty to a felony drug charge and drunken driving. The drug charge was tied to importing $4,000 worth of cocaine from the Lower 48, Empire archives show. Other past Empire records indicate Lehauli was also convicted in a criminal case in 2006 for punching a woman in the head, twice.
• Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 523-2246 or firstname.lastname@example.org.