Kurt Mausert, brother of Eric Mausert and a veteran criminal lawyer, holds a photo of his murdered brother in his law office in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Eric Mausert was killed on a Honolulu street at age 28.
Brother seeks belated justice in 1979 fatal stabbing in isles
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. » Eric Mausert was stabbed in the heart on a Honolulu street at age 28. A suspect in the killing was placed in custody, the bloody weapon was recovered and witnesses were identified.
An open-and-shut case, insists Kurt Mausert, the victim's brother and a veteran criminal lawyer.
Yet after 27 years, it has been anything but.
The suspect was released days after the killing and promptly disappeared. The case went into limbo. Mausert and his brother have lobbied aggressively -- prosecutors say too aggressively -- to have the case pursued. Prosecutors began taking a fresh look at the 1979 killing after Mausert told them he located the long-lost suspect in the Philippines. But Mausert is still frustrated, still waiting for a conviction in his older brother's death.
"This isn't how it should be," Mausert, 49, said in his law office overlooking this resort town's main street. "My brother was murdered and his killer is free. This isn't how it should be."
Eric Mausert was a Hare Krishna in Honolulu when he was killed Feb. 22, 1979. He and another man were accompanying a young couple from the temple to the airport and stopped at the home of the woman's family. Her family apparently disapproved of her involvement with Hare Krishnas. There was an argument that spilled outside as the woman walked back to the car, where Eric was waiting.
Eric heard screaming, got out of the car, raised his arms and asked what was happening when he was stabbed by a Filipino man, according to a contemporary police report. His heart was punctured. Eric's friend from the temple looked at the gushing wound and said to the dying man: "This is it. You better think of Krishna."
The woman's brother, Juvenal Andrada Llaneza, was jailed after the stabbing, but released after 48 hours. Mausert believes Llaneza was released because his father, who worked at the Philippines embassy, had political connections. He said Llaneza hopped on a plane to his home country.
Honolulu's current prosecuting attorney, Peter Carlisle, who was not involved in the 1979 case, bristles at the accusation. He said Llaneza could not be held beyond 48 hours without probable cause he committed a specific offense, in this case murder. He said filing a quick manslaughter charge to hold a suspect could induce him to quickly plead, securing a lesser sentence.
"I can't say that I know all the facts," Carlisle said, "but I know enough about how the procedures work so that I can piece together that at least the initial problem was that they thought they had a murder on their hands and they didn't have the evidence to prove it. And they were under a deadline of 48 hours."
Carlisle said there was clearly something "factually difficult about the case," though he didn't know if it was an exculpatory witness or something else.
Whatever the reason, Llaneza's absence effectively halted prosecution after he was indicted for manslaughter in June 1979. The Philippines then had no extradition treaty with the United States.
The trauma of the unresolved killing nudged Mausert toward a career in criminal justice. He wanted to make things right. He went to law school and prosecuted criminal cases in New Hampshire before switching to defense work at Saratoga Springs. He took self-defense training to learn what to do during, say, a knife attack.
But as he raised a family and established a practice, the killing shadowed him. He still keeps a picture of his brother looking contemplative with his robe, shaved head and a garland around his neck. Even before the killing, Mausert followed Eric's path and became a Hare Krishna. Four or five times a month, he'd talk to his brother in his dreams.
"In my dreams, I'd say 'This isn't right, you're dead.' He'd say 'No, that's a dream. This is reality."'
Mausert would wake up in tears.
The grief was laced with anger. Both Mausert and his surviving brother, Mark, harbor as much -- or more -- animosity against the prosecutor who let Llaneza go as their brother's killer. Mark Mausert, an attorney in Reno, Nev., is particularly scathing. "Watching a prosecutor behave like a dissembling street whore is never very pleasant," Mark Mausert wrote in a recent letter to Hawaiian authorities.
This has complicated the brothers' longtime efforts to lobby prosecutors halfway across the Pacific. County prosecutors last November transferred the case to the Hawaii attorney general's cold case unit. State prosecutors have cut off communication with the brothers, saying Mark Mausert made verbal threats. Mark Mausert denies making threats.
The brothers see the calls and letters as the only way to move the case along.
Mausert, for instance, found out last year that the United States has had an extradition treaty with the Philippines since 1996. Then he Googled Llaneza's name and came up with a hit in the Philippines. He told prosecutors they had their suspect and the legal means to get him.
The wheels finally seemed to be turning again when the AG's cold case unit began a review. But months later, Mausert still waits for an answer on whether the case will be prosecuted.
The Hawaii state attorney general's office did not return calls from the Associated Press. But the office wrote Mausert in July saying the passage of time "has taken its toll on the evidence and thus requires time and effort to uncover and evaluate."
Mausert is aware that the odds on his long fight for a conviction grow longer with the years, but he shrugs it off.
"I'll stop when I die," he said. "It's not in my nature to stop."