Prosecutor Charles F. Marsland dies at 84
Charles F. Marsland Jr.
After his son was killed by a mobster in 1975, Charles F. Marsland Jr. turned the murder into inspiration to fight organized crime.
As Honolulu's first elected prosecuting attorney, he relentlessly battled mobsters and killers, significantly reducing the island's crime rates, his friends and fellow prosecutors said.
Marsland died yesterday on his 84th birthday. A third-generation kamaaina, he is credited with transforming the Honolulu prosecutor's office.
"He was neighborhood watch before neighborhood watch came along," said neighbor and Honolulu attorney Tom Dunn, describing Marsland's commitment to keeping even his neighbors safe.
Charles F. Marsland Jr., an outspoken and gruff Honolulu city prosecutor who turned a family tragedy into something positive by striking out against organized crime, died yesterday on his 84th birthday.
Marsland, who was suffering from an unspecified illness, died peacefully at his Portlock home, surrounded by longtime companion Polly Grigg, friends and caregivers.
Marsland served for two four-year terms, from 1981 to 1988, and changed the face of the Honolulu Prosecutors Office, said deputies that served under him.
"He was a great person to work for because he had a tremendous amount of faith in his deputy prosecutors," said Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, who served as a deputy prosecutor under Marsland. "As such he transformed the Honolulu Prosecutors Office to what it is today: an office built and sustained on integrity and fairness."
Marsland's passion for fighting organized crime was motivated by the April 1975 murder of his 19-year-old son, Charles "Chuckers" Marsland III, whose body was found in Waimanalo.
Charles Marsland campaigned in 1981, at top, and in 1984, second from top, with Frank Fasi. Above, Marsland was sworn in as city prosecutor by state Supreme Court Chief Justice William Richardson in 1981.
Marsland was haunted by the murder and believed his son heard something at his job at the Infinity disco that led to his death. Underworld figure Ronald Kainalu Ching later pleaded guilty to shooting Chuckers Marsland.
"The murder of his son influenced him to take on the job as Honolulu's first elected prosecuting attorney, and it turned into an immense benefit for his home state," said Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle of his mentor and friend.
Marsland started the first felony narcotics unit and white-collar crime unit -- specialized prosecution units that worked closely with Honolulu police.
Carlisle said he owes Marsland for being in Hawaii and becoming a city prosecutor. Former Honolulu Police Chief Francis Keala hired Carlisle as an HPD law clerk assigned to Marsland. "He was my mentor, my friend, the reason why I'm prosecuting attorney today."
He was Marsland's first "bag boy" during a period when significant criminal cases were happening, including the Nappy Pulawa state trials and the first murder-for-hire case, Carlisle said.
He can still recall one day when he and his mentor were cutting through Iolani Palace grounds to the courthouse to do battle with organized crime when Marsland told him, "Pete, this is getting to be fun."
"Crime rates were dealt a blow that it never recovered from," Carlisle said, crediting Marsland for putting a big dent in crime.
A third-generation kamaaina, Hawaii ran 100 percent in Marsland's blood, Carlisle said. Marsland was knowledgeable about Hawaii and its people and an incredible source of information about old Hawaii before statehood.
After losing a bid for a third term, the private Marsland faded into a life of quiet retirement and mellowed in his later years, according to Grigg, who had known him since 1967.
His beautiful smile is what she will miss most about him, she said. "He was very dear to me."
While criminals, judges and defense attorneys saw his tough side, close friends and neighbors saw the soft side.
He was devoted to his late mother and visited his son's grave at Punchbowl almost daily since the 19-year-old was killed in 1975, Carlisle said.
"As a father, I don't know how he was able to go on, but he lived with it and kept going -- didn't let it stop him -- and in going forward, it was his way of honoring his son," he said.
A doting pet owner, Marsland's neighbors would see him walking his dogs two or three times a day when he was still mobile.
Neighbor and Honolulu attorney Tom Dunn often joined Marsland on his early-morning or evening walks, with their dogs tagging along. Marsland, Dunn said, was always the lawman, looking out for others.
He would yell after cars speeding in the neighborhood, telling them to slow down. If he saw someone sitting in a car in the neighborhood, he would go up to them and ask them what their business was.
"He was neighborhood watch before neighborhood watch came along," Dunn said. "He cared about people and how people lived. He cared about their safety, and not just professionally, but individually."
Big Island attorney Ted Hong, a former deputy prosecutor under Marsland, described his former boss as "one of the first people who shook the trees of heaven -- the powers that be."
"He really went after people who were abusing and misusing the political system, one of the first to really go after these guys, and it really set the pace for what the office would become today."
The strongest legacy Marsland left behind was to be a strong advocate for clients, especially victims, Hong said. Marsland imbued in his deputies a "no-fear type of attitude."
"We represent the people, and you go in there and do the best job possible -- be aggressive but an ethical lawyer," Hong said.