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Monday, March 12, 2001

Family photo
Not big in stature but a giant of a man is how Eric Kamanu
is remembered by his Uncle Paul Kamanu. "Guys liked
being around Eric. He was soft-hearted."

Slaying victim’s
kin hope trial will
bring closure

John 'Joseph' Griffiths will
again face a murder charge
in the 1989 case

By Debra Barayuga

Eric Kamanu's family buried him more than 11 years ago.

But they cannot let go.

Not when there were too many unanswered questions about the circumstances of his murder. Not when they could not even identify or see his body before he was buried. Not when they would came up against a wall each time they sought answers, said his uncle, Paul Kamanu.

People would tell them, "You can't bring Eric back, so shut up already."

Now, the family is hopeful that a judge's decision to reinstate a second-degree murder charge against John "Joseph" Griffiths and have him tried a second time will bring them badly needed closure.

Circuit Judge Gail Nakatani on Friday reversed her earlier decision to drop second-degree murder charges against Griffiths, one of two men suspected of shooting Eric Kamanu, 26, execution-style in the head and through the eyes and dumping his body near Huli Street in Waimanalo.

Griffiths was the last of five defendants to be prosecuted.

"It's frustrating for him," said Keith Shigetomi, attorney for Griffiths. "Just when he thought it was over, it's brought back."

Griffiths has maintained that "he didn't do it," Shigetomi said, and that co-defendants who turned state's witness benefited greatly.

A mistrial was declared when Griffiths went to trial the first time in March 1999. Jurors were deadlocked 8-4 in favor of conviction.

Griffiths was to go to trial again in February for second-degree murder if the defense had not renewed its motion to dismiss the charges a second time.

Judge Wilfred Watanabe had dismissed the indictment against Griffiths in June 1997, citing an alleged extortion attempt by a key witness and a subsequent plea agreement that prevented the defense from cross-examining him.

The cases against the three other defendants were dropped because the statute of limitations on conspiracy to murder had expired.

Kamanu is reminded of his nephew each time he visits his mother's grave at Valley of the Temples, where Eric is also buried.

The Kamanus have relied on police accounts and testimony at Griffiths' 1999 trial to try to learn the truth.

When five individuals were indicted four years after his death in 1993, the family recognized them as the people Eric had hung out with, Kamanu said.

The family had mixed emotions when he was portrayed as a ruthless drug dealer. "That's not the Eric that lived with me," Kamanu said. "If Eric was a drug dealer, he never brought drugs in my house."

Even rumors of his bodybuilding nephew taking steroids surprised Kamanu. While he never discussed it with his nephew, "I didn't think he should do it because it can ruin the body."

"I'm not going to say Eric was an angel, but at least we need to know some things."

Kamanu, the closest family member living on Oahu at the time of his nephew's death, was summoned to identify the body at the morgue but was denied access.

"I said we need to see the body."

He was told the body was badly decomposed. Police had already positively identified him via fingerprints. "I had to go on HPD words that that was Eric."

As a kid, Eric Kamanu was scrawny, his uncle recalled.

He played linebacker at Kahuku High School, weighing no more than 160 pounds.

Sick and tired of being pushed around, Eric started lifting weights. "For him it was full time. He was good at it," Kamanu said -- so much so that he placed runner-up in the 1986 Mr. Hawaiian Islands bodybuilding competition.

Not considered big in stature -- Eric was about 5 feet 8 inches tall-- but he was a giant of a man, Kamanu said. "Guys liked being around Eric. He was soft-hearted."

Also, because he was raised in the church, Eric was an aspiring minister, said Kamanu, a pastor at Grace Redemption Ministry in Kaneohe.

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