Murder defendant chooses not to fight charges
A man accused of murdering a Kapahulu woman and dumping her body near an Ewa Beach goat farm has pleaded no contest to causing her death in a heinous manner.
Wishing to end the case and against the advice of his attorney, Ronald J. Howe, 49, entered his plea yesterday before Circuit Judge Dexter Del Rosario.
He had been charged with second-degree murder, punishable by life imprisonment with parole.
However, prosecutors charged him under a sentencing provision that subjects those convicted of an offense that is especially "heinous, atrocious or cruel, manifesting exceptional depravity," to an enhanced term of life imprisonment without parole.
Howe was accused of striking Robyn Mae Nakaji's head with a pipe, cutting her throat and later dropping her body off the second floor of a Kapahulu apartment building so he could get rid of it. Prosecutors say the killing was revenge for the theft of an ounce of marijuana.
Nakaji had gone to grade school and high school with Howe but more recently was friends with his sister, Patricia Malabey.
Had the case gone to trial, Deputy Prosecutor Kevin Takata said, the state would have proved that Nakaji visited Malabey's Kapahulu apartment on April 22, 2004, where Howe beat Nakaji at least 14 times with a pipe.
Once she was incapacitated, Howe taped her face below her nose, taped her wrists and her ankles together and wrapped her in various blankets, Takata said. Then, by his own admission, while she was still alive and apparently moaning, he cut her throat, Takata said.
Howe's plea came just two days after the court denied his request to suppress statements he gave to detectives confessing to the crime.
Deputy Public Defender Walter Rodby said his client decided against going to trial against his advice.
"He did it to end the process, take responsibility," Rodby said. "He didn't want friends and family to be dragged through the rigors of trial."
But Rodby said he felt there were legal issues, including the court's decision not to toss out Howe's confession, that they could have appealed.
Rodby had argued in an earlier hearing that police coerced Howe into giving a confession under the guise of protecting his sister. Howe had said he attacked Nakaji with a pipe because she had pulled out a gun and pointed it at him.
Howe later tried to retract his statements and said two runners who worked for a Mexican drug dealer and had come to his sister's apartment that day were responsible for killing Nakaji.
He said he lied about killing Nakaji because the men had threatened to kill him and his family if he told the truth.
Prosecutors contend that Howe killed Nakaji over an ounce of marijuana that she allegedly stole from Howe and his sister. A note was found on Nakaji's body that read, "Finders keepers."
Takata said Howe and his sister had confronted Nakaji over the theft, and she allegedly told them that if she had found it, "finders keepers."
Others have faced life imprisonment without parole for especially heinous offenses, but their sentences were overturned for various reasons and they were resentenced to life with parole.
In at least one of those cases, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the evidence was not sufficient to show a man who was bludgeoned to death in the head with a claw hammer in an unprovoked attack at the University Burger King had suffered unnecessarily. The defendant, Monte Young, was resentenced to life with parole. But the parole board ordered him to serve a minimum of 100 years in prison.