by Andrew Walden
“Murder.” Hawaii County Police Lieutenant Gerald Wike comes straight to the point: “We’ve completed the investigation…. The classification from the beginning was a murder. It has not been reclassified.”
A 2010 news release from the Hawaii County PD describes the scene:
“At 10:17 p.m. Saturday (March 20, 2010), patrol officers responded to a report that a woman had fallen from her second floor room at (The Royal Kona Resort) in Kailua-Kona onto the rocks below her balcony and was fatally injured.
“Officers arrested 58-year-old William Brill of San Jose, Calif., after learning there were reports made by other hotel guests to hotel security personnel of a heated argument coming from the room occupied by Brill and the woman prior to her fall. Police have identified the woman as 52-year-old Karen Marie Celaya of San Jose, Calif….
“Brill is being detained at the Kona police cellblock on suspicion of murder….”
At the time, Brill was a San Jose Civil Service Commissioner, Second Vice President of the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council, and a Business Rep for California IBEW Local 1245 listed as pulling down $149,166 in 2010.
Brill’s arrest spurred a flurry of phone calls from IBEW Local 1245 Business Manager Tom Dalzell, who doubles as a Huffington Post Blogger. Dalzell did not respond to a request for comment, but former Hawaii State AFL-CIO President Harold Dias remembers getting a call. Now an International Rep for IBEW District 9, Dias says, “Tom did call me and asked if I had a reference for an attorney. And I referred him to (Big Island IBEW Business Rep) Donn Dela Cruz.”
Dela Cruz tells Hawai`i Free Press,
“I got a call from their Business Manager…up in San Jose. Saying, could I help them somehow. To find a lawyer for him or anything. What I did was I contacted my cousin that works for Brian DeLima. Brian DeLima I guess they tried to make contact with him while he was in holding.
“I think they just checked to see if he was there so they could try and represent him. I’m not too sure. I really don’t know how it ended. All I know is my cousin called me back saying that he had gotten released.
“Harold Dias give (Dalzell) the phone number and then he had called me to see how we could help him. I guess he (Brill) was a business rep or something like that?”
Brian DeLima is a criminal defense attorney in Hilo. A former Chairman of the Hawaii County Council, DeLima has recently been appointed to the Hawaii State School Board by Governor Abercrombie. Interviewed by Hawai`i Free Press, DeLima at first insists he has “no recollection” of any call on behalf of Bill Brill. Then this exchange occurs:
BD: Who is Donn Dela Cruz?
AW: A Business Rep for the IBEW.
BD: Now that you mention that, I do recall…I never spoke to Bill Brill, I know that for a fact. But we do get calls from unions, because I do get a lot of referrals from the unions. So if someone from the union told you that if they contacted my office to call on behalf of someone, it’s a real possibility that might have happened….
I don’t have any recollection of that, but if I did do something like that I wouldn’t admit or deny it…. What attorneys do on behalf of a client is not something an attorney would divulge…. We do speak to a number of union people on referrals. If I did intercede on someone’s behalf, it is not something I would admit or deny…. I didn’t speak to anyone from the Mainland. But we do talk to a lot of local union reps. They do refer cases to us. If some union rep told you they had spoken to me, its very likely that it happened, even though I don’t have a recollection of it. I was probably neither retained, nor did I do any follow up. If I had been retained, I would probably have a better recollection.
AW: You mentioned you get a lot of work from unions. Are referring to criminal work or other type of work?
BD: We do referrals from family law cases, criminal cases, real estate cases. We give a discount for referrals from a number of unions.
AW: So this is a benefit to their membership?
BD: That is probably why they called. The unions have a list of attorneys and my name is probably on that list.
Brill was eventually represented by Kona criminal defense attorney Michael Zola. Zola is a $1000 contributor to Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi who sought to be an Obama delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
Less than 48 hours after his arrest, Brill was released from police custody.
Interviewed by Hawai`i Free Press seventeen months later, Hawaii County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Joyce Seleen says, “at this time no charges have been filed and no charges are anticipated being filed unless there is additional evidence that comes out. It was my call not to proceed.“
Asked if any political pressure was applied by union officials or others in this case, Seleen laughs and says, “That’s not accurate…. I don’t even know who the members of the union are.”
The Celaya murder is not the only Hawaii County murder case which has gone nowhere. Hawaii County prosecutors are infamous for their inaction in the 1997 Peter Boy case, which has not moved since police handed it over to County Prosecutors in 1999.
In January, 2011 Hawaii County Prosecutor Jay Kimura announced his resignation effective April 1. Kimura said he plans to move to Maui after his brother Lloyd Kimura was convicted of operating a $23M Ponzi scheme over the course of two decades. Lloyd Kimura was sentenced to sentenced to 20 years in State Prison.
Allowed to fly back to California just days after Celaya’s death, Brill was met at the airport by reporters with questions. The San Jose Mercury News March 26 reported:
After he was taken into custody, Brill said, he didn't immediately ask why he was being held or what happened to Celaya.
"I didn't ask and they didn't tell me," Brill said. "I assumed nothing was wrong or I would have been told."….
That night, police said, there were multiple reports from hotel guests of a loud argument inside Brill and Celaya's room, with objects being thrown. Security was called.
About 9:30 p.m., Brill said, he went to sleep while Celaya was on the balcony watching the ocean.
"That was the last I saw of Karen," Brill said. "That's all I know." Police said Celaya's fall happened about 10:20 p.m.
Brill said he woke up about 20 minutes later, when police came knocking on his door. He got dressed, and police went inside and began taking photographs, Brill said.
"I did not know Karen was dead," he said. "I was worried also for myself and I didn't even know what they were doing there."
Sunday evening, an officer went to see him in jail, and that's when he learned Celaya was dead.
"I broke down as most people would. It was the news I didn't want to hear," Brill said. "I had many hours to think about it, being in a cell by myself."
Asked what he thought might have happened to Celaya, Brill refused to speculate.
"I don't have any opinion whatsoever,"
Brill's attorney, Michael Zola, however, theorized Celaya probably accidentally fell to her death on the lava rocks 25 feet below.
Bay Area NBC reported on Brill’s March 25 return:
Brill says they had an argument before Celaya's fall. What it was about, specifically, he wouldn't say.
Brill did show his gash on his forehead, which, he says, came from a cell phone that Celaya threw at his head during the argument.
Hotel guests told resort security officers that they had heard a loud argument.
Brill says after he and Celaya argued, he went to bed. Celaya was on the patio looking at the ocean. A short time later, there was a knock on the door. It was the police. Brill says he didn't see Karen in the room.
Brill said he didn't know what was going on.
"Nor did they have any idea where Karen was," he told us.
Brill said police didn't tell him where she was, either: "Cause I didn't ask. And they didn't tell me,"Brill told us.
Brill claims it wasn't until the next day when police told him Celaya had died. He says after he was arrested, no one told him anything.
"I'm sure you kept asking about Karen though." NBC Bay Area's George Kiryama asked. "I mean she wasn't around. Were you kind of worried?"
"I was worried for myself," Brill said. "I didn't even know what they were doing there [his hotel room]."
The autopsy shows Celaya died from trauma after falling from the balcony. Big Island police released Brill after there was inconclusive evidence that foul play was involved in Celaya's death. But Brill remains a homicide suspect.
"It's very, very disappointing," Brill said." This is an extremely serious charge."
Brill says he broke down when he was told of Celaya's death.
"I mean it was the news I didn't want to hear," Brill said.
Celaya's sister-in-law, Lynne Seward, says she doesn't believe Brill's story.
"I don't believe him for a minute," Seward said. "I think he knows. I think he needed to clear his conscience by what he said. And at this point, I don't believe he has a conscience."
Eight days after her death, Celaya was memorialized on what would have been her 53rd birthday. Two hundred people gathered at the Lima Campagna Alameda Mission Chapel in downtown San Jose. The San Jose Mercury News reported:
Brill was not invited to the memorial. Although he was never mentioned by name at the podium, (Stephanie Nazzisi, Celaya's oldest friend,) alluded to him once in her eulogy: "I told her, 'Don't go!' ''
Nazzisi explained afterward that she and her sister, Rozalyn Mendence, thought that Celaya and Brill were "in a volatile relationship" and urged her not to join him on the trip to Hawaii.
"They were like fire and ice," Nazzisi said. "He seemed to delight in making her unhappy."
Celaya, the single mother of a handicapped son, was a rank-and-file union member who worked at ATT for 25 years. Was Dalzell concerned about the welfare of this union member? Both Donn Dela Cruz and Harold Dias say he never asked. Dela Cruz says: “If I had known, we wouldn’t have even got involved.”
Murder suspect Bill Brill is still working as an IBEW Local 1245 Business Rep and he has since been elected Chairman of the San Jose Civil Service Commission.
Police ask that anyone with information about this investigation call Crime Stoppers at (808) 329-8181 in Kona or (808) 961-8300 in Hilo.
UPDATE 2022: Bill Brill dead at age 70