Man gets 35 years for setting fire that killed Pearl City woman

Man gets 35 years for setting fire that killed Pearl City woman
Michael Dahilig
Michael Dahilig

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - He called his actions "idiotic".

Repeat offender Michael Dahilig apologized for crimes that led to the death of a 97-year-old Pearl City great-grandmother. Dahilig will spend the next 35 years behind bars.

Familymembers of Betty Hagihara say they're satisfied with the sentence, but it holds no comfort because "Grandma Betty", as they called her, is still gone.

At his sentencing Tuesday, the 35-year-old Dahilig told Hagihara's family he was sincerely, deeply sorry for his reckless and idiotic actions. "Although words cannot account fully for your loss, I am asking that, one day, you will be able to forgive me. If I could, I would gladly give my life for hers. If I could take it back, I would."

In a plea deal, he accepted responsibility for the March 30th death of Hagihara, but her granddaughter – who's an attorney with the public defender's office - still had harsh words for him.

"My grandmother was supposed to pass, comfortably in a bed, surrounded by her family, peacefully slumbering into the next world. She deserved that," said Ronette Kawakami. "What she did not deserve was to die on the floor of her bedroom, alone, in a burning house, that the defendant set on fire."

Dahilig admitted to abusing drugs, including methamphetamine, in the past and repeatedly burglarized homes in Hagihara's Pearl City neighborhood. He used a blowtorch to break into and burglarize the property where she lived. That's how the house caught fire.

"Even after the house had burned down, he ruthlessly and heartlessly returned to the scene to see if he could steal even more," explained Kawakami.

A neighbor's surveillance video previously captured Dahilig committing another crime. He tried to cover his face with his shirt, but it revealed his distinctive tattoos, and police nabbed him. Prosecutors say it's an example why drug abuse and property crimes should be taken more seriously.

"Let's give them a break, let's give them a break … we keep on giving people a break like we gave Mr. Dahilig … someone's life may be taken needlessly," said Honolulu City Prosecutor, Keith Kaneshiro.

The family agreed to the plea deal to prevent reliving the tragedy during a trial. They describe Grandma Betty as a happy, healthy, smart, funny, and fiercely independent great-grandmother.

To Betty Hagihara, we say, rest in peace.

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