Guilty plea expected in 1977 slaying


POSTED: Wednesday, January 07, 2009

One of two suspects charged in the 1977 murder of a Moiliili liquor store owner was expected to plead guilty to lesser charges in state court today.

Melvin Kumukau, 52, was scheduled to plead to manslaughter and robbery.

An Oahu grand jury indicted Kumukau and Aaron Meyer, 49, in the Sept. 27, 1977, murder of Moiliili Bakery owner Toshio Kawano in what police said was a botched robbery. Their trial was scheduled to begin this week.

At the time of his arrest in December 2006, Kumukau was on parole for robbery and attempted second-degree murder.

Yesterday, the state attorney general filed a new complaint against Kumukau, charging him with manslaughter and robbery.

Kawano, 58, died in a gunfight with two would-be robbers in his store at 2737 S. King St. The business was no longer a bakery but Kawano kept the name.

Police found him slumped in a sitting position in an aisle of the store, his holster tucked under the waist of his pants and his gun nearby.

The case remained unsolved for nearly 30 years. Police had no suspects and could not find any witnesses.

Then, in 2001, Honolulu police told Kawano's family that they were pursuing charges against two suspects whom they had identified from information provided by a witness who stepped forward the year before.

Police turned the case over to the state attorney general's Cold Case Unit.