Aggressive prosecutor snuffed crime network
Former City Prosecutor Charles Marsland died here Wednesday on his 84th birthday.
CHARLES F. Marsland Jr., whose son's death in 1975 led to his tenacious campaign against organized crime as Honolulu city prosecutor, left an imprint on the prosecutor's office that remains today. Marsland died Wednesday
on his 84th birthday at his Portlock home.
The grandson of Norwegian emigrants to Hawaii, Marsland earned his law degree from Boston's Northeastern University and returned to the islands in 1967 with his son Charles "Chuckers" Marsland III. In April 1975, Chuckers, 19, who had been working as a doorman at a Waikiki discotheque, was shot to death.
After receiving information that he regarded as "obvious that some of the people involved were part of organized crime," Marsland joined the city prosecutor's office a year later and in 1979 was named head of a unit concentrating on prosecution of career criminals. He was fired later that year amid friction in the office, and in 1980 ran for and became Honolulu's first elected city prosecutor.
Marsland doubled the office's crime-fighting staff, and his fight against organized crime began to bear fruit in 1984. Henry Huihui, a reputed syndicate enforcer, confessed to two murders, and Ronald Ching, a syndicate hit man, confessed to four murders, including that of Marsland's son.
"Within six weeks of the time Chuckers died, I knew that Ching was somehow involved," he said. "It was a question of pulling it all together."
Turning government witness, Huihui reportedly linked many top officials to organized crime, and Marsland talked about implicating "people of prominence." Marsland aide and later state Sen. Rick Reed claimed that Big Island rancher and Democratic Party power broker Larry Mehau was the "godfather" of Hawaii's organized crime, but Marsland never made such allegations.
Mehau's attorney accused Marsland of conducting a "vendetta" to get his client, but Marsland denied it.
"I don't have a vendetta against Mehau," he insisted in 1984. "If I do have a vendetta, it's against organized crime. I think it stinks. I don't like to see people shoved around, and they have been in this state." Mehau was the target of a federal investigation of organized crime, but was never charged.
Marsland was an aggressive and sometimes abrasive prosecutor who did not hesitate to criticize judges whom he regarded as soft on crime. In 1988, the controversial figure was defeated in his re-election bid by longtime deputy Keith Kaneshiro, who had headed the organized-crime task force under Marsland.
Peter Carlisle, who succeeded Kaneshiro as city prosecutor in 1996 and remains in the post, was head of the felony trials division under Marsland, whom he considered to be his mentor. Under Marsland, "Crime rates were dealt a blow that it never recovered from," he told the Star-Bulletin's Debra Barayuga.
Marsland always was careful to stop short of saying public officials were directly involved with the underworld. "If I had a specific answer to that, I'd sure as hell be indicting some people," he said in an interview while in office. "I'll clue you when the time comes. Keep your fingers crossed."
Our fingers still are crossed, but Hawaii-based organized crime on the scale of the 1970s and 1980s has not raised its head since then. Marsland can be credited with that sizable accomplishment.