Man gets life term for murder
Ronald Howe says his confession was a lie to protect his family
A Waipahu man who claimed he lied to protect his sister when he confessed to murdering a Kapahulu woman was sentenced yesterday to life imprisonment without parole.
Circuit Judge Dexter Del Rosario imposed the state's harshest penalty on Ronald Howe after rejecting his request to withdraw his no-contest plea to second-degree murder and go to trial to prove his innocence.
Howe had pleaded on the day of trial last October to murdering Robyn Mae Nakaji, 49, on April 22, 2004, at his sister's Kapahulu apartment, then dumping Nakaji's body near an Ewa goat farm.
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Ronald Howe took the witness stand yesterday in Circuit Court during a request to withdraw his no-contest plea for the 2004 murder of Robyn Mae Nakaji.
He entered his plea against the advice of his public defender, Walter Rodby, two days after the court denied his request to suppress earlier statements he gave to detectives confessing to the crime. At the time, he told Rodby he wanted to take responsibility and that he did not want to subject his family and friends to the rigors of a trial.
Yesterday, he said he is now willing to describe the real murderers even if it still places his family in jeopardy.
Howe testified that he was at his sister's apartment on April 22, 2004, when Nakaji, whom he said frequently used his sister's apartment to deal drugs, came by with two unidentified men and disappeared into his sister's bedroom to weigh some methamphetamine.
Sometime later, he said, he heard "pounding" coming from his sister's room and opened his door to see Nakaji on the hallway floor and the two men beating her to death.
He testified that the men pulled a gun on him, asked him where his sister, Patricia Malabey, was and threatened to kill her and the rest of their family if he said anything to anybody about Nakaji's death. They accused Nakaji and Malabey of working as informants for police and setting them up.
Afraid they would shoot him, Howe said he told the men he would do anything they asked of him and complied when they ordered him to help them tie up Nakaji. He said he also accompanied them to Ewa, where they dumped the body and dropped him off.
"I didn't kill this girl. I said what I had to say to protect my family. I didn't kill this girl," Howe said on the stand yesterday.
Deputy Prosecutor Kevin Takata asked Howe why he did not bring up his concerns for his family's safety earlier when he learned from his sister, who was present, that she was not in danger as he had believed.
Howe said he was unable to reach his sister previously and did not know she was going to be at his change-of-plea hearing. After talking to her since, he said, he is now convinced she can take care of herself.
Howe was accused of repeatedly striking Nakaji's head with a pipe, cutting her throat, then dropping her body off the second floor of the apartment building so he could get rid of it. When her body was recovered, she was wrapped in blankets with her face taped below her nose, her wrists and ankles bound. Prosecutors said the killing was in retaliation for the theft of an ounce of marijuana.
In his confession to detectives, Howe said he attacked Nakaji with a pipe because she had pulled out a gun and pointed it at him. Howe admitted to police that he had cut her throat while she was still alive and moaning.
Rodby said Howe was "extremely disappointed" he was denied his chance to change his plea and reveal the true murderers. Howe plans to appeal.