Judge rejects third trial of three men in Aiea slaying
Three men who went to trial twice in the last two years on charges stemming from a drug-related Aiea slaying will not face a third trial.
Circuit Judge Michael Town dismissed second-degree murder charges against Jason Rumbawa and Rosalino Ramos and a first-degree robbery charge against Anthony Brown on Thursday at the defense's request. A fourth defendant, Micah Kanahele, was convicted at the second trial of a reduced charge of manslaughter.
The defense says Town made the right call supported by case law. Prosecutors disagree.
"We are going to appeal, and we're hoping to have that decision overturned so we can go forward with another trial," said Deputy Prosecutor Lucianne Khalaf.
The four were charged in the October 2003 slaying of Greg Morishima, who was gunned down in the carport of a friend's home by at least three armed and masked men. They opened fire after he made a remark about them showing up early for Halloween. A fifth defendant, Kevin Harris, turned state's witness after reaching a deal in which he would plead to a lesser charge of robbery.
Defense attorneys subsequently filed motions to dismiss the case based on a Hawaii Supreme Court ruling that the defense maintains gives the court discretion to dismiss a case if the first trial ends in mistrial. They had argued that it would be unfair to let the state have another shot when it already had two and could not secure convictions.
"So he did the right thing, the courageous thing and dismissed the case," said Jeffrey Hawk, attorney for Brown, who was pleased with the court's ruling.
Brown "felt like the past two years of his life had been put on hold because of this case," Hawk said. "His life has not been his own for a while."
Brown is speaking with a U.S. Navy recruiter and hopes for a chance to serve his country, Hawk said.
Art Ross, attorney for Rumbawa, said his client is relieved to be finally free of the cloud hanging over his head.
"He's always maintained the fact that he was not guilty of this and it was made up by somebody else to protect those responsible," Ross said.
Khalaf said the court's dismissal of the charges is not a declaration of their innocence or guilt. "The only effect of the dismissal is the state won't ever have the opportunity to hold them accountable for those charges," she said.
The court had to weigh several factors in deciding whether to dismiss the case, she said.
"Had he balanced how serious this case was and the reason for the prior mistrials, it would be clear to a reasonable judge the state is entitled to a third time because it doesn't serve the interest of justice to escape accountability for a murder," Khalaf said.
In seeking a fair verdict, "We wanted to be able to present the case before 12 jurors who would follow the law and remain fair and impartial," he said.
Town said he considered the two prior mistrials, the length and complexity of the previous trials, the similarity of the evidence that would be presented -- whether it would be substantially different from that presented at the previous trials -- and the strength of the case. He concluded that he could not say it will get better in a third trial.
Ramos still faces trial with Kanahele in another drug-related slaying that occurred five days after the Morishima killing, in the parking lot of the Pearl City Longs. Trial in that case is set for April 17.