Thursday, September 20, 2001

State high court
bars retrial of
Big Isle man

Christopher Wilmer had
been granted a mistrial for the
1997 killing of his employer

By Debra Barayuga

THE HAWAII SUPREME COURT has ruled that a man accused in a Big Island murder four years ago cannot be retried.

The justices reversed yesterday a trial court's decision that declared a mistrial in the case but allowed the state to retry Christopher Wilmer.

Wilmer went to trial for second-degree murder in November 1998 for the slaying of businessman Gordon Granger in May 1997.

Granger was Wilmer's employer and was the court-approved sponsor for Wilmer in an unrelated criminal case.

Halfway through the trial, Judge Riki May Amano declared a mistrial without prejudice -- meaning the prosecution could retry Wilmer again -- citing prosecutorial misconduct.

Amano found that deputy prosecuting attorney Kay Iopa had:

>> Withheld evidence or information from defense attorney Brian De Lima, including a report that could have proved Wilmer innocent.

>> Violated the witness exclusionary rule.

>> Made negative comments casting De Lima in a negative light before a prosecution witness.

>> Made misrepresentations about a letter sent by Wilmer to a potential juror.

Amano concluded these reasons warranted a mistrial.

De Lima had argued that the trial should have been dismissed based on prosecutorial conduct but that Wilmer should not be retried because of double-jeopardy issues.

The high court noted that Iopa's misconduct was inexcusable, but the justices also said the trial court had abused its discretion in granting a mistrial, saying the misconduct caused little prejudice to Wilmer and could have been resolved through other means than a mistrial.

Wilmer should have been allowed to choose whether to continue with trial or consent to a mistrial, the justices said.

"Because Wilmer did not consent to a mistrial, retrial is barred by Wilmer's double-jeopardy rights," the justices said.

De Lima had not seen the ruling yesterday but said it appeared the justices had agreed with his arguments.

Wilmer is currently in prison serving time on an charge unrelated to the Granger murder.

Iopa resigned from the prosecutor's office a week after the mistrial.

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