Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Bodybuilder’s 1989 slaying
brings 10-year term

By Debra Barayuga

John Joseph Griffiths has pleaded guilty to recklessly causing bodybuilder Eric Kamanu's death 13 years ago in what prosecutors described as a turf war over drugs.

Griffiths, 40, avoided a second Circuit Court trial by pleading guilty yesterday to a lesser charge of manslaughter, recklessly causing Kamanu's death on Aug. 4, 1989, and dumping his body in an undeveloped area in Waimanalo behind Blanche Pope Elementary School. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

It was the first time Griffiths publicly acknowledged involvement in Kamanu's death. He maintained at his 1999 trial, which ended in a hung jury, that he was not there when Kamanu was shot.

Kamanu's family members said they can put his death behind them now that his killers have taken responsibility.

Paul Kamanu, Eric's uncle, said the family still misses him dearly and will pray for Griffiths and his family.

"We harbor no ill feelings for 'Joe' Griffiths," Kamanu, a pastor at the Grace Redemption Ministry in Kaneohe, said yesterday. "What's done is done. We can't undo the past. If there's one thing our family has learned all these years, it's the power of forgiveness, and we choose to forgive."

Their first step toward closure actually took place two months ago when police showed Kamanu and wife Nancy, Eric's closest relatives here, photos of their nephew taken at the crime scene for the first time. Kamanu said he could finally reassure his brother Joseph -- Eric's father -- that it was indeed his son that they had buried 13 years ago.

In 1989, Paul Kamanu was not allowed to see his nephew's body before he was buried.

Eric Kamanu's slaying remained unsolved for nearly four years until witnesses who were later in prison for drug offenses began talking in hopes of reducing their prison time. Griffiths and three others were indicted in 1993 for murder and conspiracy to murder. Conspiracy charges against the three were later dropped after the statute of limitations expired.

Griffiths will serve his 10-year term at the same time as an eight-year term he received in federal court two weeks ago for possessing with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of crystal methamphetamine.

Deputy Prosecutor Darrell Wong plans to ask the state Paroling Authority to order Griffiths to serve the full 10 years.

Michael Hee, who was not among the three others indicted, has also pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the killing and was to have testified for the state at Griffiths' trial. Hee will be sentenced in January. Hee identified Griffiths as firing the first shot into Kamanu's head and said Griffiths forced him to take hold of the gun while they both shot Kamanu.

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