Big Isle airman
faces court-martial

A jet mechanic could be sentenced
to life in prison if convicted

By Gregg K. Kakesako

A Big Island F-15 jet mechanic will face a general court-martial in May for allegedly killing a fellow airman at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa.

In announcing the decision to court-martial Airman 1st Class Damien Kawai for the death of Airman 1st Class Charles Eskew Jr., Brig. Gen. Gary North, commander of Kadena's 18th Wing, said: "Kadena Air Base officials are following appropriate military legal procedures to preserve the integrity of the proceedings. It remains critically important that these proceedings be as thorough as possible to ensure fairness for all parties involved."

Air Force officials had the option of pursuing the death penalty in the case but now say that Kawai faces a maximum penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.

Both Kawai and Eskew were assigned to the 18th Maintenance Squadron at Kadena Air Base.

Kawai has been in pretrial confinement since Nov. 19 as a result of an investigation by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Eskew was found dead in his dormitory room Nov. 17.

Kawai, 19, also is charged with the theft of some of Eskew's belongings and impeding investigators.

At a six-hour pretrial hearing Feb. 18 at Kadena, Air Force Special Agent Clifford Minor testified that Kawai, a 2000 Pahoa High School graduate, confessed to killing Eskew.

Minor said Kawai wrote in a statement that he put Visine eye drops in Eskew's beer, causing Eskew to vomit and have difficulty breathing.

Minor said Kawai also admitted putting a pillow over Eskew's face several times before putting his hands around Eskew's neck.

Then Kawai went to his room to get a knife to cut Eskew's arms, Minor said, to make his death look like a suicide.

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