Hilo man not
guilty of murder

A retrial ends with the verdict
that the man did not kill his
ex-wife and stepchild in 1996

HILO >> A Big Island jury handed down not-guilty verdicts yesterday in the murder retrial of retired agricultural researcher Tetsuya "Grizzly" Yamada, whose 1999 manslaughter conviction in the death of his ex-wife and stepchild had been overturned.

On the witness stand, Yamada, 67, said he took the blame during the previous trial for the actual killer, his wife, Puanani Haili. She has since died.

The state Supreme Court had ordered a new trial for Yamada, ruling that there were improper jury instructions in the first trial in 1999.

The jury found Yamada not guilty of first-degree murder, killing two people in one crime, and not guilty of two counts of second-degree murder yesterday for the deaths of his former wife, Carla Russell, 50, and his stepdaughter, Rachel De Cambra, 23.

When police responded to the crime scene on the outskirts of Hilo in 1996, they found Yamada with a shotgun in his hand.

He made vague statements like, "I guess I must have lost my head." But he told police he had a blackout and could not remember the killings.

His wife was shouting at police, "Kill me, kill me."

Yamada did not testify in the first trial.

Gerard Lee Loy said that when he became Yamada's attorney, he could not understand why no gunpowder residue or blood was found on Yamada's clothes, especially since De Cambra was shot at close range in a closet.

He said he confronted Yamada, who then told Lee Loy he was not the killer.

Despite Haili's behavior, the lead police investigator in the case, Edwin Tanaka, testified that he never considered anyone else as a suspect except Yamada.

"This case should open the eyes of the prosecutors. They need to be more vigilant in assisting the police in doing a competent job," Lee Loy said.

Yamada's younger brother, attorney and former state legislator Katsuya Yamada, said the second trial should never have taken place on legal grounds. Since his brother was found guilty of manslaughter but not murder in the first trial, trying him for murder a second time is barred by Hawaii law, he said.

Charlene Iboshi, the first deputy in the prosecutor's office, called the verdicts "very disappointing" but added, "That's the way the system works."

Yamada did not comment, but Lee Loy said he does not believe Yamada regrets his decision to take the blame for his wife's actions.

During the trial, Yamada testified through tears that he was obeying his marriage vow to protect his wife "until death do us part."


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