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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 10, 2010

Maui judge disregards plea deal, sentences man who beat wife to five years

By Lila Fujimoto
Maui News

WAILUKU Saying he couldn't "in good conscience" follow a plea agreement recommending probation, 2nd Circuit Judge Joel August sentenced a Wailuku man to a five-year prison term for assaulting his wife with a 2-by-4 last year.

In imposing the sentence Wednesday, August said 57-year-old Benjamin Matias has a "long history of substance abuse and violence."

"It is clear that a sentence of probation with one year in jail would not appropriately reflect the seriousness of his continuous violent conduct, would not reflect the seriousness of his continued alcohol abuse and would not afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct in that it would not sufficiently protect certain members of the public from further crimes," August said.

In his latest case, Matias had pleaded no contest to second-degree assault of his wife on Oct. 7, when he was intoxicated and hit his wife after she refused a request he made.

The assault occurred five days after the expiration of a temporary restraining order against him that she had obtained in September 2008, August said.

As part of a plea agreement, the prosecution and defense recommended that Matias be sentenced to a one-year jail term as part of five years' probation.

Deputy Public Defender William "Pili" McGrath said the plea agreement was reached, in part, to spare Matias' wife from having to testify at a trial while still placing Matias under supervision. McGrath also said Matias has numerous health problems that would be difficult to manage in prison.

Through an Ilokano interpreter, Matias declined to speak at his sentencing.

August noted that Matias had twice been sentenced to a five-year prison term for habitually driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in 1998 and 2003.

Matias also has convictions for abuse in 1995 and third-degree assault and second-degree terroristic threatening in 1998.

Yet Matias recently told a probation officer that he has no substance abuse problem, August said. He said Matias' prior participation in two anger management programs and a prison drug treatment program "had no effect whatsoever."

"The conclusion of the court is that the defendant is an alcoholic with extreme violent tendencies who has absolutely no insight into the nature of his behavior and the nature of his disease and clearly has no social skills to modify that behavior," August said.

The judge said he rarely disregards plea agreements between the defense and prosecution.

But "the court in good conscience cannot find that a sentence of one year of incarceration and five years of probation is consistent either with our statutory scheme or with common sense," August said.