Friday, April 18, 2003

Convicted Pearl City
caregiver seeks parole

The state wants her to serve all
four years for the manslaughter

By Debra Barayuga

The attorney for a Pearl City care-home operator convicted of recklessly causing the death of one of her patients says she should be "immediately released" from prison.

The Hawaii Paroling Authority is considering how much longer Raquel Bermisa has to serve behind bars before she can be considered for parole.

Bermisa, 41, was sentenced to the statutory maximum of 20 years after being convicted of manslaughter in October 2000 for failing to get proper medical care for 79-year-old Chiyeko Tanouye. It is the believed to be the first case in the nation in which a caregiver has been prosecuted for manslaughter for causing the death of someone under their care.

Bermisa was ordered to spend a minimum of six years and eight months under a statute governing crimes that result in death or bodily injury to the disabled and elderly.

But Gov. Ben Cayetano in December commuted Bermisa's 20-year prison term to four years just hours before leaving office. It was his first and only commutation in his eight years as governor.

Cayetano said at the time that he believed the sentence was too harsh and that Bermisa's actions amounted to negligence.

The state has asked that Bermisa be ordered to spend the full four years in prison.

Yesterday, Bermisa appeared in person before the three-member board at the Women's Community Correctional Center and said how sorry she was for what happened to Tanouye. It was the first time she has publicly expressed her feelings about Tanouye's death.

Sandwiched between her trial attorney, William Harrison, and public defender Joyce Matsumori-Hoshijo, who is handling her appeal, Bermisa said there is not a day that passes or breath she takes that she does not feel remorse or pray for Tanouye.

"I loved Mrs. Tanouye. She was feisty, outspoken and opinionated, but I loved her," said Bermisa.

Deputy Attorney General Michael Parrish, who prosecuted Bermisa, said it was "mere coincidence" that her apology came on the day of her minimum term hearing. He said her statement still contained no acknowledgment of wrongdoing.

He said Cayetano did not review the trial evidence and was not aware of all the facts of the case or the attorney general's position before making his decision.

Harrison said Cayetano had the absolute power of commutation and could do as he pleased with an application for commutation. He said Cayetano had ample knowledge of the case, not only from Bermisa's first attorney, who practiced law with Cayetano, but also from lawmakers and care-home operators who knew her.

Tanouye died in August 1999 after collapsing during an outing. The state contended at trial that infection from fist-size bed sores led to complications that resulted in her death. The defense brought in a doctor who testified Tanouye had died of a heart attack, and not because of the ulcers.

Bermisa has already served two years and three months behind bars.

The board is expected to issue its decision within three weeks.


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