Sunday, September 18, 2005

Organized crime figure Ronald Ching, shown here in July 1984, was serving a life sentence for four murders.

Hitman Ching
dies in prison

The notorious killer succumbs
to hepatitis from past drug use

One of Hawaii's most notorious and cold-blooded killers, underworld hitman Ronald K. Ching, died in Halawa Community Correctional Center of complications from liver disease yesterday morning, prison officials said.

Ching, 56, was serving a life sentence for killing a state senator and the son of a former city prosecutor as well as for two other murders. One of his victims was buried alive.

Ching was found unresponsive by prison staff in a prison medical unit at 2:20 a.m. Prison officials said Ching had been housed in a cell within Halawa's medical facility for the past five or six years from complications of Hepatitis C.

Prison officials said Ching, who had once been an imposing figure at 250 pounds, died weighing about 140 pounds.

"His health had been declining for years," said Capt. Dallen Paleka, Halawa watch commander. "We found him doing normal rounds ... we tried to revive him, but he was unresponsive."

In 1985 Ching was sentenced to life in prison for four organized crime murders -- state Sen. Larry Kuriyama in 1970; the 1975 shooting of the 19-year-old Charles Marsland III, son of then-Deputy City Corporation Counsel Charles Marsland Jr.; felon-turned-government-agent Arthur Baker, buried alive in 1978; and the shooting of gambling figure Robert Fukumoto in 1980.

Following the killing of his son, Marsland ran successfully for prosecutor.

Honolulu City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, who helped convicted Ching as a deputy prosecutor under Marsland, remembered talking to Ching about the murder of Arthur Baker.

"The description of the air and sand going in his mouth when he inhaled while he was under the ground has never left me," Carlisle said. "There's not many people who can describe to you in explicit detail burying someone alive.

"He could be very cordial and charming when he was cooperating with you, and there were other times he could be reptilian as to how cold he was."

Ching originally pled guilty to the four murders in 1984 as part of an agreement with prosecutors to help them with other organized-crime-related cases.

That deal collapsed when Circuit Judge Marie Milks stated that anything less than a life term "would depreciate the seriousness" of Ching's crimes. On Aug. 23, 1985, she sentenced him to life in prison.

While serving time behind bars, Ching appealed to the Hawaii Paroling Authority twice for reduction of his minimum sentence, once in 1996 and again in 1999, but was rejected. Carlisle also said Ching approached him in person recently while Carlisle was at Halawa on business, and asked him if he could still be considered for early release.

"He knew I was not willing to assist him," Carlisle said. "And he said to me he understood, because 'some things can't be forgiven.'

"And I said, 'That's right.'"

Prison officials said Ching was kept out of the general population for much of his stay behind bars, not because of discipline or who he was but because of his illness.

"He wasn't a disciplinary problem. He kind of just wanted to do his time," said Paleka. "He tried to turn his life around, as much as you can do in prison."

Carlisle said that during his last conversation with Ching the former hitman acknowledged that it was his drug use, namely heroin, that was killing him.

"In his prime he was a very imposing figure with a very large tattoo of a shark on his forearm that he called Jaws," Carlisle said. "He had a very intimidating physical presence.

"In prison he was suffering."

In a 1985 interview with Star-Bulletin reporter Charles Memminger, Ching said he felt remorse and pled guilty to the four murders because he was upset with the way he had been treated by organized crime.

"I could see that the whole organized crime movement had been very greedy...there's been no loyalty toward me," Ching said. "I don't feel I owe none of these people anything.

"I realize what I've done. It's terrible. And I've had a hard time dealing with that ... I feel badly, not necessarily for the victims. But for their families, the people that loved them. They have a right to know what really happened.

"I care that I did hurt people. I can't bring them back. There is no way I can bring them back."

As with any death of an inmate, Paleka said, the prison's Internal Affairs Unit will do a routine investigation into Ching's death. Honolulu police officials were also called to investigate and said that Ching appeared to die of natural causes and that there were no signs of foul play.

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