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Chuukese man gets life term for murder


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POSTED: Friday, July 17, 2009

A native of Chuuk who asked that he be sent back home rather than prison was sentenced yesterday to serve at least 10 years of a life term for the fatal stabbing of an 18-year-old man in December 2007.

RJ Ham made the request to state Circuit Court Judge Michael Town, but Town said the sentence is mandatory and ordered Ham to prison for life with the possibility for parole.

Town also ordered Ham to serve at least 10 years before he is eligible for parole because he has two prior assault convictions. The Hawaii Paroling Authority can set a higher minimum.

Town found Ham, 25, guilty of second-degree murder in a nonjury trial for fatally stabbing Fusitogamala Savea on Dec. 26, 2007, in front of Sunny Mart on North School Street in Kalihi. He called the killing an undeserved, tragic loss.

“;It was alcohol-fueled. To this judge common sense trumps culture and communication. It was completely avoidable by Mr. Ham. I don't accept for a minute it was an accident,”; Town said.

Ham argued in trial that Savea attacked him. When he took out a knife to scare him off, Ham said Savea fell on the knife. The knife plunged five inches into Savea's chest, puncturing his heart, diaphragm and liver.

At sentencing yesterday Ham's lawyer said the stabbing was the result of a misunderstanding because of language and cultural differences.

Savea's then-14-year-old cousin said Ham stabbed Savea after the two got into an argument over a handshake.