Killer's escape shines spotlight on the controversial judge who acquitted him

Updated: Nov. 15, 2017 at 11:23 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Circuit Court judge who deemed Randall Saito mentally unfit to stand trial and committed him to the State Hospital in 1981 was a controversial figure, and one of his decisions even prompted hundreds of people to protest at the state Capitol.

Judge Harold Shintaku's legal history is returning to the fore in the wake of Saito's escape, with many questioning why the killer was committed.

Before Saito fatally stabbed 29-year old Sandra Yamashiro at Ala Moana Center in 1979, police say he shot her with a pellet gun, then went to check on her to ask if she was OK.

Shintaku said that kind of behavior is why he believed Saito was insane.

"If you look at the evidence that was presented, she did not move. She was bleeding profusely. Her face was down. She did not move nor answer him at that point. And for him to think that she could identify him and therefore he had to kill her, that becomes irrational also in my mind," said Shintaku, in a 1981 interview.

The same year, Shintaku overturned a jury verdict that found high-profile Honolulu crime boss Charles "Charlie" Stevens guilty of a double murder. Stevens had admitted to killing and dismembering the victims.

Shintaku said there was not enough evidence in the case, and protests erupted at the State Capitol several days later with hundreds calling for his demotion and an investigation.

On Oct. 6, 1981, police arrested Shintaku for drunk driving and he was found later at his family's Mokuleia beach house with multiple injuries, including a broken collar bone.

Shintaku claimed he passed out and was beaten, but investigators said he may have gotten hurt trying to hang himself.

"It's thought that possibly he had in fact stood on a table and had tried to put a ligature around his neck and jump. And then the ligature had fell or broke and he fell to the floor from a distance of anywhere from six to nine feet," investigators said in 1981.

Shintaku retired in 1983. In 1987, he was arrested in a gambling raid in Alewa Heights and pleaded guilty.

The following year, he was found dead on the Las Vegas strip after apparently jumping from the third floor of the Stardust Hotel.

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