Friday, April 16, 1999

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Roy Yamamoto, friends and family sing "Lord I Give
You My Heart" outside Circuit Court.

From prison
and drugs to New
Hope and God

Roy Yamamoto escaped a 20-
to 40-year prison term by telling
a judge about how God has
changed his life

By Susan Kreifels


ROY Yamamoto opens his "Full Life Study Bible" and turns to his favorite passage: Psalm 91. But the 35-year-old doesn't need to read it. He knows the words from memory.

He's turned to them many times as the way of his life.

"For He will rescue you from the snare of the fowler, from the destroying pestilence," Yamamoto recites softly. "He shall call upon me, and I will answer him."

The answer came three years ago. After a decade of ice and cocaine abuse and four years in prison, Yamamoto was scared that his walls would always be made of bars. Kneeling in his cell, he prayed for help, and, he believes, it arrived.

"God forgave me for destroying families," said Yamamoto, who used the Bible to teach himself to read in prison. "I'll never go back to selling drugs."

Now he says he's devoted his life to God and to helping others reform as well. Yamamoto apparently convinced Circuit Judge Michael Town, and yesterday Town sentenced him to five years of probation instead of prison time on robbery charges from four years ago.

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Roy Yamamoto (center) with family and friends
outside circuit court.

A packed courtroom of more than 80 supporters from the New Hope Christian Fellowship broke out in applause and tears.

Deputy prosecutor Jean Ireton, known as a tough attorney, smiled. The government agreed to drop mandatory sentencing as a repeat offender and accept probation for Yamamoto's guilty plea.

"It's nothing compared to what he will have to face if he screws up in front of all these people," she said.

Yamamoto was charged with second-degree robbery and being an accomplice to robbery in 1995 over an attempt to collect on a bad drug deal. His partner is serving 10 years in prison.

The charges against Yamamoto were dropped two years ago, a decision by Circuit Judge Elwin Ahu. The state appealed, then reached the plea agreement with Yamamoto, who faced 20-40 years as a repeat offender.

When Yamamoto was in prison, he prayed that a Christian judge would preside over his robbery trial. When he was released, he joined New Hope. There he saw Ahu "sharing his testimony" and became even more convinced that "God answered my prayers."

Nicknamed the "gentle giant," the 6-foot-2-inch, 220-pound Yamamoto is trying to help others change their lives. New Hope Pastor Guy Higashi, who says Yamamoto has "too much commitment" to go back to drugs, praised the program Yamamoto started: New Hope, New Start for former convicts and drug and alcohol abusers.

'For He will rescue you
from the snare of the fowler,
from the destroying pestilence.
He shall call upon me,
and I will answer him.'

Roy Yamamoto


Yamamoto also speaks before many groups about his life and the decisions that turned it around.

Pat Lee, a former convict, was in the courtroom yesterday. "He's one of the best brothers I know," Lee said. "He has heart for people."

Yamamoto, who has a 12-year-old daughter he supports, had a rough childhood but prefers not to share the details. He lived with his grandmother, Ayako Yamamoto, 87, who was smiling yesterday. "He was always good boy," his grandmother said. "He's more better boy now."

A tough guy in his former life, he was convicted on several terroristic threatening charges. His sister Lori Yamamoto says the changes in her brother are "awesome, like night and day."

She says old drug friends offered to get him back in business when he came out of prison but he refused.

"Before he never thought about anyone but himself, the drugs, the friends who did the drugs. He never thought about family," she said.

His attorney, Howard Luke, said Yamamoto's story stands out in his career of defending criminals. "I've never seen someone do this kind of turnaround," Luke said.

Yamamoto, who rides a bicycle to his full-time job with an electrical company, spends many hours a week on church work. Calls for his guidance have become so frequent that he now carries a pager.

"I feel so good about life. My future is to serve the Lord."

Yamamoto's partner in the 1995 robbery is serving 10 years in prison over the attempt to collect on a bad drug deal.

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