Sunday, April 15, 2001

Suspicion rampant in
woman’s death

By Rod Antone

Tammy Cocard remembers April 5, 2000, well.

That was the day her mother, Shirlene Marie Wakisaka, slipped into a coma.

"I was terrified; I couldn't believe it," Cocard said from her Truckee, Calif., home.

"It was like walking through a cloud or something. It didn't seem real."

It is a nightmare that continues more than a year later as Cocard's stepfather, 45-year-old Kenneth Wakisaka, goes on trial in June for her mother's murder.

An autopsy report released several months after Shirlene's death showed she had been strangled.

"We'll be conducting our own independent review of the evidence," said Myles Breiner, Wakisaka's attorney.

Cocard said she did not want to talk about her stepfather's guilt or innocence.

What she did talk about was her suspicions - little things that still eat away at her.

On April 5, 2000, Cocard said her mother had left so many messages at her home in California that her answering machine was full.

Cocard returned her mother's calls and ended up calling for an ambulance.

"She could barely speak," Cocard said. "She told me she was confused and that she was dying."

What happened next is a matter of court record. When ambulance and fire personnel came to assist, Ken Wakisaka told a fireman that his wife had taken sleeping pills and alcohol and that he did not need help.

Wakisaka also signed a release so rescuers did not have to take her to the hospital.

"He said that they took her vitals and that she was fine, and that he would stay home that day and if there were any changes he would call the ambulance," Cocard said.

Later that day, when Cocard called her mother at her Ko Olina home, she said Wakisaka answered the phone and told her that her mother was "sleeping like a dog."

Not like a log or a baby. A dog.

"It was a derogatory statement, as far as I was concerned, and that's how I took it," Cocard said.

And still later, when her mother had slipped into a coma and was taken to the hospital, Cocard said Wakisaka - who had been at the emergency room for about an hour - said he had to go home and feed the dog.

"I wouldn't leave my husband in the emergency room if he was on life support," Cocard said.

Cocard and other family members arrived in Hawaii the next day and watched Shirlene live on machines. Cocard said that after a week, doctors told them her mother was brain dead.

Cocard said Wakisaka refused to take Shirlene off life support, although Cocard and her family agreed to do so.

"He wanted a second opinion," Cocard said.

Cocard said Wakisaka did take her mother off life support the next day, after she and other family members had gone back to the mainland.

Why he waited, she does not know.

"I just wish this none of this ever happened," Cocard said.

Breiner said Shirlene Wakisaka has had a "history of psychiatric problems." His client has pleaded not guilty to the charge of second-degree murder.

It is a turn of events that started with phone messages left at Cocard's home that April 5 - messages from her mother that Cocard said were strange, but not alarming.

"She called about seven to eight times and kept on saying the same thing," Cocard said. "'I love you and please call me.'"

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