Sunday, September 14, 2003

Ice storm: Epidemic of the Islands

“Everyone deserves a chance, and even if something happens that is violent, it doesn’t mean this person is a throwaway and should never be given another chance at life.” --Frank Janto, from a letter he wrote to the Star-Bulletin from an Arizona prison.

‘ice’ risks

A felon who says he became
an addict in prison goes on
to commit more crimes

Convicted murderer Frank Janto says he began using crystal methamphetamine as an inmate at Halawa prison.

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At the time, Janto was serving a five-year sentence for a 1990 assault of an elderly woman walking along the Ala Wai Canal.

Less than nine months after he was released, Janto killed Wahiawa resident Bongak "Jackie" Koja on June 9, 1997. Koga was on an early-morning walk when Janto beat her to death and left her body in a dumpster at Leilehua High School. He had spent the previous night smoking "ice" and crack cocaine and drinking.

"When I was released from prison in 1996, I was an addict," Janto wrote from prison in a letter to the Star-Bulletin. "I couldn't get off, I kept going back to it, it was the only way I could handle the outside."

Lt. Gov. James Aiona, who is hosting the drug summit beginning tomorrow and who presided over Janto's trial, said his case illustrates the complexity of dealing with addiction and crime.

"To say it (the murder) is purely as a result of drugs, I can't say that. Did drugs play a part of it? I guess so. But it's also just his nature," Aiona said. "There's no doubt about it. He has the characteristics of a dangerous criminal."

As a judge, Aiona said he's heard a lot of similar stories of drug and alcohol abuse.

"There's a lot of Frank Jantos out there as far as the pattern of using," Aiona said, but he emphasized not all of them commit violent crimes.

Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, who personally prosecuted Janto, holds him up as a poster boy for tougher laws against repeat offenders.

"The only time Frank Janto hasn't committed a crime is when he was in prison and even then he's committed crimes against other prisoners," Carlisle said.

But Janto wrote that he believes education and treatment are the answer to Hawaii's drug problem, not tougher sentences.

"To use my case against someone else would be very wrong. There's a lot of ice users out there who use ice and never hurt no one but themselves," Janto wrote from the Arizona prison where he is serving a life sentence with a 75-year minimum. "I don't believe making a tougher law on crystal methamphetamine users is the answer."

Koja's murder was Janto's fourth felony conviction. Carlisle argues that the case shows why the state's repeat-offender law needs to be tougher so that Janto would have been on an extended sentence after his third conviction for assault in 1991.

"He's an example of someone who should have never been let out. We should have pulled the plug on him a long time ago," Carlisle said.

Janto was an alcoholic by age 15 and has been in trouble with the law for most of his life, Carlisle said. He has previous convictions for car theft in 1983 and rape in 1988.

Janto said the way to prevent addicts from committing violent crimes is to make treatment available.

"Everyone deserves a chance, and even if something happens that is violent, it doesn't mean this person is a throwaway and should never be given another chance at life," he wrote.

Janto said he is in a drug treatment in Arizona and is taking Bible studies classes. He said there is a need for more drug treatment programs in prison.

"I believe treatment and time will change anyone," he wrote.

Janto said he tried to get treatment in Hawaii, but didn't qualify for Habilitat or prison treatment programs because of the sexual assault conviction.

Aiona noted, "There's always that window where you could have helped this person or this person could have gotten help. Now when, where, how and why, I can't answer those questions about Frank Janto."


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