Retired Officer Reacts to Verdicts in Accomplice Case
Retired Hawai‘i County Police Officer Marshall Kanehailua wasn’t surprised by the verdict reached in the case of the accomplices to Justin Waiki, the man accused of killing Officer Bronson Kaliloa in July of 2018.
On Nov. 7 in 3rd Circuit Court, Malia Lajala was found guilty of first-degree hindering prosecution, a class C felony, and second-degree assault on a police officer, a misdemeanor. Krystle Ferreira and Jorge Pagan-Torres were found guilty of second-degree reckless endangering, also a misdemeanor.
All three were initially charged with accomplice to first-degree attempted murder but were found guilty on misdemeanor assault offenses.
“I’m sure there was a strategy by the prosecution, but proving it beyond a reasonable doubt was an uphill battle with the charges being so serious and the jury given the option of lesser offenses,” said Kanehailua, who testified during trial for the prosecution.
Lajala, Ferreira and Pagan-Torres were in the vehicle when police found Waiki on July 20, 2018. Waiki had been on the lam for three days after the fatal shooting of Kaliloa and an islandwide search to apprehend him had been underway.
Kanehailua was incident commander of the department’s Special Response Team at the time. He was on scene at South Point Road shortly after a vehicle, driven by Pagan-Torres, was stopped and Waiki was found hiding with a woman, later identified as Jamie Jason, in the back of the SUV. Waiki was shot and killed by police after he shot another police officer.
Jason was also shot in the process. She was charged with first-degree attempted murder, first-degree hindering prosecution and other offenses. Her trial has not yet been scheduled.
The trial for Lajala, Ferreira and Pagan-Torres lasted about a month. Kanehailua was disappointed in the drawn out proceedings, which he thinks had an impact on the verdict. While there is a sense of closure, he added, the events and feelings of those three days last summer will never go away.
“To see the dedication and commitment of our officers during the search for Waiki, knowing the outcome could very well cost them their lives, made me proud to be a police officer,” he said. “The whole ordeal from Officer Kaliloa getting killed and the days that followed, more importantly watching and feeling the emotions of the officers on the front lines, did affect me on one of the reasons I retired.”
Hawai‘i County Prosecutor Sheri Lawson assisted Kauanoe Jackson in the case. She said the state is disappointed in the verdict.
“We believed strongly in this case — it was a case the community needed to hear and needed to decide,” she said.
The state had the burden to prove the their case beyond a reasonable doubt, Lawson said. It was a difficult trial and both prosecutors thanked the jury for their attention to the case.
“Police officers just doing their jobs don’t deserve this to happen to them,” Lawson said. “It’s important to recognize that when there is an officer-involved case, it will be taken seriously, and this one was.”
Jackson added that she thought the Hawai‘i County Police Department did a remarkable job.
Throughout the trial, Jackson said, the defense argued the defendants were under duress.
Defense Attorney Brian De Lima represented Ferreira. He said his client is relieved the jury saw it as they did. In many ways, he added, she is a victim.
Lajala, Ferreira and Pagan-Torres first came into contact with Waiki at the Hilo Taco Bell. Believing they were meeting Jason, De Lima said they were met by Waiki, who demanded he be taken to South Point.
Lajala is scheduled to be sentenced in January and Ferreira will be sentenced on Nov. 13. De Lima said she faces up to six months in jail or parole. Pagan-Torres has already served his maximum sentence for the case, however, he has a pending revocation on a 2017 Hilo case for violating probation.
Kiel Brende, Mokihana Veincent and Taumi Carr were also accused of assisting Waiki while he was on the run from law enforcement. They were all charged with first-degree hindering prosecution and lesser offenses.
Brende and Veincent both pleaded guilty to first-degree hindering prosecution, a class C felony over the summer. Both were sentenced to an indeterminate period of five years in prison. The Hawai‘i Paroling Authority will set the term limit.
Carr is scheduled to stand trial in December.
With the recent verdicts, Kanehailua believes it sets the bar of punishment for the remaining defendants.
Kanehailua retired in November of 2018 as an assistant chief. He served Hawai‘i County Police Department for 29 years.