2 career criminals face trial in 1977 killing of store owner
The case languished until a witness came forward in 2000
Two career criminals who have been in and out of state prison since 1980 will stand trial for the murder of a Moiliili store owner 29 years ago.
An Oahu grand jury on Thursday indicted Aaron Meyer and Melvin Kumukau for the Sept. 27, 1977, murder of Toshio Kawano.
State sheriffs arrested Kumukau, 50, Wednesday. He's being held in Oahu Community Correctional Center pending trial. Meyer, 47, was already in custody at Halawa Correctional Facility, where he is serving a life sentence for robbery.
"If they can be put away for the rest of their lives or longer, the safer it is for the rest of us," Kawano's son Roy said yesterday.
Roy Kawano said he worked with investigators to bring his father's case forward for prosecution. And even though it took more than 29 years, "We're happy to get closure."
With no eyewitnesses to the murder, the case languished. But in 2001 Honolulu police told Kawano's family that they were pursuing charges against two suspects who were identified from information provided by a witness who had stepped forward the year before.
And Thursday, the state Attorney General's Cold Case Unit took the case to the grand jury and received the indictment.
State Attorney General Mark Bennett praised the work of the Cold Case Unit.
COURTESY HONOLULU POLICE DEPARTMENT
A Honolulu Police Department crime scene photo shows the Moiliili Bakery on 2737 S. King St., a sundries store where owner Toshio Kawano (inset) was killed on Sept. 26, 1977.
"We hope that this will bring some level of comfort to the family, and bring more confidence in the criminal justice system to members of the public, who will know that people may be gone, but neither they nor their cases are forgotten," he said yesterday.
Toshio Kawano, 58, was killed in a gunfight with two would-be robbers in Moiliili Bakery at 2737 S. King St. His son said his father had stopped baking and turned the business into a liquor and sundries store but kept the bakery name.
Kawano's wife, Shinobu, said that against her wishes her husband wore a gun in a holster around his waist because of previous robberies.
When police found him slumped in a sitting position in an aisle of the store, his holster was still tucked under the waist of his pants, and his gun was nearby.
He had gunshot wounds to his abdomen, right arm and cheek. He was taken to the Queen's Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead 2 1/2 hours after the 8:10 p.m. shooting.
Meyer was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility for parole in 1984 after a jury found him guilty of robbery and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Because he had a 1979 conviction for first-degree theft, the judge sentenced him to the extended prison term as a repeat offender.
In 2000 he pleaded guilty to robbery and kidnapping and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, to be served concurrently with his life sentence.
Kumukau pleaded guilty in 1980 to criminal trespassing, and in 1986 to first-degree theft. In 1988 a jury found him guilty of attempted murder, seven counts of robbery, seven counts of kidnapping and other charges for which he was eventually sentenced to consecutive prison terms of 10 and 20 years. He was released on parole in February 2004.