After a five-week trial and seven days of deliberation, a King County jury became deadlocked and failed to return verdicts against a couple charged with assault during a raucous protest at the University of Washington in January 2017.
King County Superior Court Judge Kristin Richardson declared a mistrial Tuesday in the trial of Elizabeth and Marc Hokoana, after the jury twice told Richardson they were struggling to reach a unanimous verdict.
Elizabeth “Lily” Hokoana, 31, had been charged with first-degree felony assault for shooting Joshua Dukes, 35, an avowed anarchist and antifa sympathizer, in the stomach during the chaotic protest. She faced up to 15 years in prison. Her husband, Marc Hokoana, 31, was charged with misdemeanor assault and faced up to four months in jail for spraying a pepper-spray blaster into the crowd.
The Hokoanas walked out of the courtroom without commenting, holding hands. Steven Wells, Elizabeth Hokoana’s attorney, said he was relieved “that nobody left the courtroom in handcuffs. In my business that’s a win.”
Senior Deputy Prosecutor Raam Wong said he wouldn’t decide whether to retry the case until he’s talked to jurors and had a chance to weigh his options. He said the jury clearly struggled with a difficult decision and took the job seriously.
The night of the shooting, several hundred protesters, many of them already upset over the inauguration earlier that day of President Donald Trump, squared off against a large group who had purchased tickets to see right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. Tensions reached critical mass when a large group of black-clad “anti-fascist” demonstrators flooded Red Square.
Among those waiting for Yiannopoulos were Elizabeth and Marc Hokoana, a pre-med student and Trump supporter who prosecutors say had come as much to goad the “snowflakes” protesting Trump’s inauguration and the speech. He had told a friend on social media the night before that he planned to attend the event prepared to go “full melee” — a gaming reference to hand-to-hand combat. He armed himself with a curved-blade tactical knife and a pepper-spray blaster.
Elizabeth, he told his friend, would be armed with a gun. She carried a 9mm Glock semiautomatic pistol in a holster beneath her parka.
During testimony as the last witness in the trial, Elizabeth Hokoana admitted that she shot Dukes. She claimed she fired at Dukes to defend her husband, who Dukes was charging toward after Marc Hokoana fired pepper spray into the crowd. It was the defense’s burden to show that she reasonably feared her husband was about to suffer death or serious bodily injury. Washington is a stand-your-ground state, meaning she had no obligation to retreat from the danger.
Dukes, who works as a computer-security expert, had refused to testify at the trial, claiming through his lawyer, Abigail Cromwell, that he didn’t believe in or trust the U.S. justice system, and prosecutors were left to put on a case without a victim.
During closing arguments after the five-week trial, his absence was used by defense attorneys to raise questions about the validity of the state’s case. Why didn’t he testify? they asked. What was the state hiding? The King County Prosecutor’s Office could have had Dukes arrested as a material witness, but Wong said before the trial that he would not do that. Dukes was critically injured in the shooting, and he and his partner were expecting a child.
However, the information about Wong’s decision wasn’t shared with the jury, and the panel retired Thursday for deliberations with the questions raised by the Hokoanas’ lawyers left unanswered.
Both the defense and prosecution urged jurors to watch the extensive cellphone videos of the tumultuous protests that were central to the case, each side claiming the videos proved their cases.
The defense — largely through the testimony of the Hokoanas — gave mostly benign explanations for what occurred in Red Square and the day before, when Marc Hokoana sent the social media messages about “cracking skulls” of “snowflakes” — a pejorative term used to describe people who opposed Trump’s election.
Wong insisted that the Hokoanas’ actions before and during that night were intended to incite the antifa protesters. He pointed out that Marc Hokoana was in a fight within eight minutes of arriving on campus, and was involved in a total of five altercations before the shooting.
“He went there to crack skulls and cause a melee,” Wong said. “It certainly appears that’s what he did.”
He said the couple invented their stories to fit the facts as they emerged after the incident. Elizabeth Hokoana, for instance, never mentioned a knife when she and Marc Hokoana turned themselves in to police the night of the shooting. The first time she brought that up was nearly two months later, after the defense knew that police had found a pocket knife and a Leatherman tool in Dukes’ clothing.