Tuesday, March 2, 1999

Trial begins in 1989
slaying of bodybuilder
Eric Kamanu

By Debra Barayuga


Bodybuilder Eric Kamanu was at the top of his world in 1989 -- controlling a flow of cocaine from the mainland to Hawaii, said Deputy Prosecutor Darrell Wong. But on Aug. 4, 1989, that world came crashing down.

Opening statements began yesterday for John Joseph Griffiths, 36, the man indicted for second-degree murder in Kamanu's death nearly a decade ago.

A runner-up in the 1986 Mr. Hawaiian Islands bodybuilding competition, Kamanu was shot once execution-style in the back of the head and at least three more times in the eyes in a secluded spot in Waimanalo before his body was dragged into the brush, Wong said. A police officer on routine patrol spotted the body three days later.

Griffiths, whom Kamanu considered a friend, was one of four indicted in his death, but is the only one to face trial after charges against the others were dismissed.

Kamanu allegedly was killed because his associates wanted their share of the power and money, Wong said.

The defense will argue that Griffiths wasn't there at the time of the shooting and, in fact, was at a friend's gym in Kaneohe, said his attorney, Phil Lowenthal.

He said Griffiths had been drinking with Kamanu and his business partner Michael Hee at Flamingo's bar in Windward City Shopping Center, but last saw Kamanu alive with Hee when they dropped him off at the gym.

Hee, who was not indicted but pleaded guilty to manslaughter and robbery in Kamanu's death, is expected to testify for Griffiths, Lowenthal said. If convicted, Griffiths faces life in prison with the possibility of parole. The trial continues March 11.

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