Honoring Her Son With Sports, Bills

Each January for four years, people have gathered from all over Oahu for the Joel K. Botelho Flag Football Tourney at Kaneohe District Park. It’s one way to remember the Castle High School sports star and speak out against violence.

His mother now is pushing to remember him in a different way — by passing Joel’s Law (HB 55), which looks to change the definition of first-degree murder in Hawaii. “Joel was actually executed in front of our home (in 2011),” Nonohe Botelho said. “The shooter told him to get down on his knees and beg for his life, and Joel did, and the shooter shot him at close range. Joel died instantly.

“We didn’t know this until months after the investigation was completed,” she added.

Makuola Collins was found guilty of second-degree murder and second-degree attempted murder, and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Once she learned of the circumstances of her son’s death, however, Botelho wanted to know why the crime was not considered murder in the first degree. First-degree murder in Hawaii currently applies only in specific circumstances, such as multiple victims, or if the victim is a witness in a criminal case. Joel’s death does not meet these criteria under present law, though Botelho said that in 34 other states it would be automatic.

HB 55, introduced by Reps. John Mizuno (DKalihi) and Jarrett Keohokalole (D-Kaneohe), seeks to “elevate the murder of a person that is heinous, atrocious or cruel to first-degree murder to better reflect the severity of the crime.”

“I can’t promise, but I will try,” said Mizuno (at this year’s memorial tournament). “This year, we will try. I apologized for not being a stronger advocate in 2013 or 2014, but I said I will do my best to get a hearing (this year).” Mizuno sponsored similar legislation in 2013, but noted that only about 10 percent of introduced bills pass and become law.

Joel’s Law faces an even steeper uphill battle. “This is a very big law in the books, and it’s really hard to change, so we’re very astute,” added Mizuno, who is House Vice Speaker. “We know it’s not going to be easy.” If the bill progresses, he stressed that cooperation with the state prosecutor and attorney general’s offices is crucial.

Should the bill get a hearing, Botelho said its passing is dependent on public testimony, written or in-person. “This is really hard for families to talk about. It’s not a ‘club’ that anybody wants to be a part of,” she acknowledged. Botelho, who also is involved with the Hawaii chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, welcomes more help on the cause and invites people to email her at nonohe96744@yahoo.com.

“I think we have a shot, I really do,” Mizuno added. “We’re trying our best, and I’m hopeful.”

For updates on HB 55, visit capitol.hawaii.gov.