First-degree charges have been levied
The alleged killers of Janel Tupuola in Kailua and of baby Cyrus Belt on the H-1 freeway have been charged with second-degree murder. What crime in this state would justify a charge of first-degree murder? I've been here 30 years and cannot remember a charge of first-degree homicide ever being issued.
Answer: There have been several high-profile cases involving first-degree murder charges.
Under Hawaii law, second-degree murder is defined as occurring simply "if the person intentionally or knowingly causes the death of another person," while first-degree murder involves specific kinds of victims.
First-degree murder would pertain to someone who intentionally or knowingly causes the death of: more than one person in the same or separate incident; a law enforcement officer, judge or prosecutor involved in the prosecution; a witness in a criminal prosecution; a person by a hired killer, in which case the killer and the person who did the hiring would be charged; or a person while the defendant was imprisoned.
Section 707-701 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes, which defines first-degree murder, also contains a lengthy commentary and notes about how the law came to be.
Someone convicted of first-degree murder or first-degree attempted murder faces a sentence of life in prison WITHOUT the possibility of parole, while someone convicted of second-degree murder or second-degree attempted murder faces life in prison WITH the possibility of parole.
However, a new law passed last year gave juries the power to sentence certain repeat offenders to extended terms.
That was the case with Patrick Lorenzo, who was convicted of second-degree murder for fatally shooting off-duty deputy sheriff Daniel Browne-Sanchez last year.
But a Circuit Court jury last month could not decide whether he should be sentenced to life in prison without parole. Lorenzo now is scheduled to be sentenced by Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto on March 11.
In Hawaii's worst mass killing, Byran Uyesugi was found guilty of first-degree murder for fatally shooting seven Xerox co-workers in 1999.
More recently, Adam Mau-Goffredo was indicted on a charge of first-degree murder in the killing of three people at Tantalus Lookout in 2006. His case is still pending, with defense attorneys saying he is not mentally fit for trial.
That defense worked for Micah White, who was acquitted in 2006 of first- and second-degree murder charges in the deaths of his mother and aunt.
In another recent case, a jury found Shane Mark, charged with first-degree murder, guilty of second-degree murder in the death of plainclothes police officer Glen Gaspar in 2003. However, he was given the "enhanced" sentence of life in prison without parole.
Matthew Higa and Alapeti Tunoa Jr. both pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder yesterday, Higa in the death of baby Cyrus, and Tunoa in Tupuola's death.
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