Bernard Brown said “I swear she was fine,” in police interview played for jury in murder trial
The trial for Bernard Brown, who is accused of second degree murder in the disappearance and presumed death of Moreira “Mo” Monsalve, started on Monday and continued yesterday in 2nd Circuit Court.
Monsalve went missing more than eight years ago, and was last seen Jan. 12, 2014 at Brown’s rented ground floor unit at the ʻĪao Parkside condominium in Wailuku. She was 46 years old at the time of her disappearance, and the mother of three.
Brown, who has been described as Moreira’s ex-boyfriend, pleaded not guilty to second degree murder in December 2020.
On Tuesday, the jury listened to an interview a Maui police detective conducted with Brown following Monsalve’s disappearance in which Brown denied any involvement. In the interview he was recorded saying, “I swear she was fine… I did not hurt her.” He also said, “I hope you find her,” and suggested that perhaps she was out “partying.”
Sherry Spenser, a friend of Monsalve, and a short-time roommate of Brown also testified. She had known Monsalve for more than a decade since her junior year in high school, and described “Mo” as having a “bubbly” and “happy-go-lucky” personality.
According to Spenser, Monslave messaged her that Brown was looking for someone to share rent with. Spenser agreed to rent a room for $700 a month, and moved into Brown’s two-bedroom two-bathroom condominium; but within a week, she made the decision to move out.
Spencer testified that she was gone for two days in Hāna, and was “drunk” when she returned to the unit Sunday evening, Jan. 12. She said she took a shower and went to bed with earbuds on, listening to music, and recalls waking up during her sleep. When asked if she heard arguing or yelling, Spencer responded, “No.”
“I got up, turned over, and went right back to sleep,” Spencer said. Spencer said she could not recall if she saw Monsalve that evening.
According to Spencer, she went to work on Monday, Jan. 13, and when she got home from work that evening, Brown asked her if she could follow him and pick him up when he dropped off Mo’s car at a shop in the Wailuku Industrial area. He made a phone call during the ride back in which Spencer could hear him say, “I dropped off your car. Sherry is with me. She’s taking me back home,” according to Spencer’s testimony.
When police arrived at the unit on Tuesday, Jan. 14 looking for Brown, Spencer answered the door. She later told Brown about the visit, but said Brown was “monotone, like ‘yeah, I know, they already called me.’”
By Thursday, Jan. 16, Spencer made the decision to move out. “I didn’t want to be there anymore,” Spencer said. She said Brown had told her that people were coming with guns to the unit and threatening him. “I didn’t want to be around that stuff,” she said.
Also on Tuesday, a security specialist and civilian employee with the US Air Force, Matthew Mitchell, testified. He identified video footage of Monsalve entering and exiting the facility on Jan. 12, with no further attempt to gain access after that date.
Another witness, Toby Spenser-Benedetti, became aware her friend was missing when Monsalve’s daughter Alexis messaged her on Facebook asking her if she knew any of Brown’s friends, because ‘nobody knew where he was.’
Spenser-Benedetti said she tried to contact Monsalve first, with no success. Then she called Brown. “He answered… I asked him where Mo was. He said he didn’t know.” According to Spenser-Benedetti, Brown was said Monsalve was supposed to take care of his cat because he was going to the mainland, but he said she never showed up.
She also had the impression that he was at the airport at the time of the call because he said he was trying to change his flights, “because Mo didn’t come to watch his cat.”
Alexis also texted Derrick Montalvo, a longtime friend of the family, and her godfather. Montalvo knew Mo since the mid 1980s when she was married his ex-brother-in-law.
He tried to call and text Mo, but she never responded, which he said was very “unusual,” and told Alexis to get in touch with police, “because something is wrong.”
In late 2013, Monsalve had asked Montalvo to hire Brown, who had been laid off from his other job. Over a 3-4 week period he worked an estimated 6-10 days for Montalvo’s small construction company.
Montalvo also called Brown, who said he did not know where she was. Montalvo said Brown suggested that , “‘maybe she was in Kihei at one of the bars…’ I said, ‘should we check and which bars,’ but he said I should check with the managers, or something along those lines.”
Montalvo said he found that “strange.”
Montalvo continued, “He might have asked… do I suspect him too. I said, ‘I’d be kind of foolish not to. You were the last one to see her.’”
In his conversation with Brown, Montalvo said Brown told him Monsalve arrived at the apartment at around 5 p.m. and she left with who he assumed was her son Tyson or someone with her son.
“He told me he had fallen asleep,” said Montalvo.
There are eight more witnesses lined up for Thursday when the trial resumes.