Newspaper clippings from 1971, when Medeiros pleaded guilty to the death of Mitzi Klotzbach. (Image: Honolulu Advertiser)
More Medeiros-related newspaper clippings from 1971. (Image: Honolulu Advertiser)
Mitzi Klotzbach's grave site, at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. (Image: Hawaii News Now)
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -
William "Willie" Medeiros, Jr. was supposed to die in prison.
A local newspaper, on the front page of a morning edition printed nearly 46 years ago, said Medeiros was being "whisked" away to state prison, where he would "spend the rest of his natural life" behind bars.
Convicted of one murder and accused of three others, most Hawaii residents figured Medeiros would never again see life outside of Halawa.
Back in 1970, when he was just 25 years old, Medeiros was listed as a suspect in multiple violent murders. Ross Fitzjohn was found dead in May, and two other men – Herman Marfil and Charles Akana – were killed in November.
A witness in the Akana case – 18-year-old Mitzi Iso Klotzbach – was murdered a month later. Her body was found buried in a shallow, sandy grave along the Waianae coast. She had been shot in the head. Sources say, Klotzbach had simply overhead a conversation about Akana's murder and that is why she was targeted.
Two young women, identified as Klotzbach's best friends, were placed in protective custody as they prepared to testify against Medeiros that they saw him kidnap her before her murder.
They soon learned they wouldn't have to testify after all.
In May of 1971, Medeiros pleaded guilty to Klotzbach's killing and was sentenced to life in prison – without the possibility of parole. In exchange, the murder charges involving Marfil and Akana were dropped and the Fitzjohn investigation was closed.
The living witnesses went on with their lives, believing they would never find cause to fear Medeiros again.
But decades later, a reduction in his life sentence means he is coming home.
"He was part of a gang," said Keith Kaneshiro, Honolulu's Prosecuting Attorney, who still remembers the 1970 murder cases Medeiros was involved in. "In those days, there were a lot of killings. Gang style, gang-like killings."
For Medeiros, the gang life continued behind bars while he awaited trial for Klotzbach's murder. The Waianae native took part in a jail break in April 1971 – after a friend smuggled guns into the Halawa prison.
Medeiros and five other inmates managed to escape, sparking a massive island-wide manhunt. They were later captured.
Two years later, after his guilty plea in the Klotzbach case, Medeiros used another gun that was smuggled in to shoot an inmate who attacked him with a knife.
It was around the time of the prison shooting that a sweeping change to the Hawaii penal code was made -- one that would eventually give Medeiros a chance to get out of prison.
"It was just one of those changes in statutes, where they were dealing with these life without parole sentences," said Earle Partington, one of Medeiros' attorneys over the years. "People who had gotten them prior to a certain date could have them reconsidered, and there was 'no life without parole' under the new statute."
After the statute change was made, Medeiros tried unsuccessfully for a judicial reprieve in 1976. State Circuit Judge Masato Doi heard an appeal by Medeiros, who was attempting to get his sentence reduced. But the judge upheld the initial ruling, saying the sentence that had been imposed was a fair one.
In 2001, Partington was able to convince Circuit Court Judge Michael Town that Medeiros should be given a chance at parole.
"They found a judge who was willing to commute his sentence, to a certain extent, and allow him to walk free amongst us," said former Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Peter Carlisle.
Town, now retired and serving on the parole board, is barred by judicial ethics from explaining his decision to instead give Medeiros a chance at parole but current Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro has a theory, "I know that particular judge, and his philosophy was that a person is entitled to parole. And I disagree."
The parole board set his sentence at 40 years.
In 2011, he was finally paroled but Medeiros wasn't free just yet; he still had to serve time for multiple bank robberies that had occurred around the same time of the murders.
Medeiros has been serving time at a federal prison since 2011. He is currently in a federal facility in Sheridan, Oregon, but his time is nearing its end. In just months, Medeiros – at 71 years old – will be returning to Hawaii as a free man.
The lawyer who helped get his sentence reduced believes the community doesn't have to fear from a man who knew little besides a life of crime before spending most of his adult life in prison.
"I can't imagine that he's a terribly big risk today," Partington said. "Former criminals who come out of prison in their 70s are generally low risk."
Carlisle, who dealt with many criminals during his tenure as city prosecutor, disagrees.
"A very violent, brutal human being who has killed multiple people is now suddenly, because he's older, he's better?" asked Carlisle. "I don't understand that reasoning because it's specious."
Medeiros' actual release date is in February 2018, but he'll likely be brought back to Hawaii sooner so that he can be held at the federal detention center in Honolulu until his time is up.
He will be on parole and will likely have a monitoring system set up. Kaneshiro hopes that will keep him away from witnesses who have long believed they had nothing to fear. Both witnesses have been warned about his pending release.