Jury rejects possible killers in wrongful-death suit
HILO » A Big Island jury had only two choices as to who shot and killed a mother and daughter in 1996. Yesterday, the jury said neither of the possible suspects did it.
The surprise verdict came in the trial of a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by Esther De Cambra, daughter of victim Carla Russell, 50, and sister of victim Rachel De Cambra, 23.
Esther De Cambra had sought $6 million in damages from Tetsuya Yamada, her mother's ex-husband.
Yamada was found guilty of manslaughter in the case in 1999, served more than six years in prison, won a new trial and was acquitted in 2004.
Yamada's attorney, Gerard Lee Loy, said Yamada's new wife in 1996, Puanani Haili, was the real killer. She has since died.
Yamada testified he did not kill the victims. He said he took the blame for Haili in the first trial because of his marriage vows to protect his wife.
The jury in the lawsuit trial had to answer specific questions on whether Yamada killed the victims or Haili. They said neither was the killer.
Esther De Cambra's attorney Kris LaGuire said he was "flabbergasted" by the verdict. He said evidence was overwhelming -- including Yamada's original confession, which he later withdrew -- that Yamada killed the women.
The jury "refused to get to the heart of the matter," he said.
Defense attorney Lee Loy said the verdict shows that the legal system works. "This is a true verdict," he said.
A "commonsense" interpretation of the verdict is that jurors could not decide who the killer was, he said.
Trial testimony showed Yamada and Haili lived in a house on nine acres while Russell and Rachel De Cambra lived in a nearby house on the same land.
Bad feelings grew between the houses. Yamada gave Russell ownership of part of the property, then tried to withdraw the agreement and charge her rent, Esther De Cambra testified.
Yamada, who owned numerous guns, sometimes fired his shotgun so pellets landed on the roof of Russell and Rachel De Cambra's house, Esther De Cambra said.
When Yamada was arrested, he told police he had blacked out and did not remember the shootings. He had suffered a head injury years earlier. He said he assumed he killed the victims.
Haili also said she did not remember the shootings.