2017 in review: An escaped killer tricked his way to California – and is still there today

(Image: Police)
(Image: Police)
(Image: KCRA)
(Image: KCRA)

As we near the end of 2017, Hawaii News Now is taking a look back at some of the biggest stories that emerged over the course of a turbulent year for Hawaii. 

Randall Saito has been locked inside a California prison cell since November 15.

An escaped patient from the Hawaii State Hospital, Saito had been at the facility since 1981 – the year he stabbed a stranger to death at a shopping mall but was considered too insane to go to prison for the killing.

His escape from the hospital, three days before he was eventually captured in California, could be considered easy: he simply walked away.

After making his way to a nearby park, authorities say Saito called a taxi from a cell phone he wasn't supposed to have, telling the driver his name was Bill when the vehicle arrived.

Officials say he somehow took advantage of a special privilege that allowed him to walk the hospital grounds freely. They still aren't sure how he acquired a phone, cash, a backpack and a change of clothes – or how he made complex arrangements to catch a $1,500 charter flight from Honolulu to Maui.

From the Valley Isle, he somehow got on a Hawaiian Airlines flight to San Jose, California. He had landed in Northern California before the hospital even reported that he was gone.

In the days after his escape, state hospital officials refused to say what, exactly, had gone wrong.

"Like I said, I'm not going to get into the details of it," said William May, the hospital's administrator. "I'm sorry, at this point I just can't, given the ongoing criminal investigation."

"Is it because you don't know, or because you can't share that with the public?" asked a Hawaii News Now reporter present at the press conference.

"I don't know, because the investigation is ongoing," May replied.

Saito was eventually captured in Stockton, California. In repeated jailhouse interviews, Saito said he wanted to escape because he didn't believe he would ever be released from the Hawaii State Hospital, even though he claims he is no longer mentally ill.

"I've been in the Hawaii State Hospital for 37 years consecutively, and during that time, my behavior has been nothing less than exemplary," said Saito.

Hawaii residents, though, still wanted answers. How could an admitted killer, clinically diagnosed as a psychopathic necrophiliac, pull off such a brazen escape?

Days later, Governor Ige's administration responded with regret. He also put the hospital's staff under investigation.

"This is the first time I've been aware of a situtaion where there have been several shifts of individuals who were apparently not doing their job," said Dr. Virginia Pressler, the director of Hawaii's Department of Health.

Saito's commitment to the state hospital was controversial when it occurred – the judge in the case overruled experts and acquitted him because of his mental illness. Later, the same judge killed himself after being accused of accepting bribes to acquit a different killer.

There has been nothing controversial about his imprisonment in California, and it appears there will be little controversy over his extradition back to Hawaii. Saito has already been served a warrant informing him that he'll be transported back to Oahu, a move expected to happen sometime early in January.

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