SHAR­ING MANA‘O

The Maui News - - TODAY’S PEOPLE - KATHY COLLINS

Hope­fully, by the time you read this col­umn, Ran­dall Saito will have been found and taken into cus­tody. Af­ter walk­ing away from the Hawaii State Hospi­tal on Oahu, where he has been con­fined for the past 36 years, the man di­ag­nosed as a sex­ual sadist and necrophil­iac re­port­edly boarded a char­ter flight to Maui on Sun­day morn­ing.

Saito had been ac­quit­ted by rea­son of in­san­ity of the 1979 mur­der of San­dra Ya­mashiro. The young woman had been shot and stabbed at Ala Moana Shop­ping Cen­ter, ap­par­ently cho­sen at ran­dom by her killer.

When news of Saito’s es­cape ex­ploded on so­cial me­dia, waves of nau­sea and chicken skin en­veloped me. The Ya­mashiro mur­der was one of the first cases I had cov­ered as a tele­vi­sion news reporter for KITV-4 in Honolulu. At the time, Saito was a skinny, seem­ingly meek 22year-old who sat silently through his court ap­pear­ances. I was a year older than him, and I re­mem­ber think­ing he looked like many of my high school class­mates. It was chill­ing to re­al­ize that some­one who ap­peared so av­er­age could be ca­pa­ble of such bru­tal­ity. His at­tor­ney did not con­test Saito’s com­mit­tal to the hospi­tal, say­ing he was dan­ger­ous and “in­tends to do it again.”

Saito’s was one of sev­eral high-pro­file cases I fol­lowed on the court beat. The most mem­o­rable, for me, was the rape and at­tempted mur­der trial of Ver­non Reiger Sr. Reiger was an al­leged hit man and known mem­ber of the lo­cal un­der­world. He was ac­cused of rap­ing and sodom­iz­ing Josephine Hoapili in her home, then shoot­ing her in the head and leav­ing her for dead. Mirac­u­lously, she sur­vived.

Tes­ti­mony at the trial re­vealed that Josephine’s McCully apart­ment had been pre­vi­ously oc­cu­pied by Reiger’s for­mer girl­friend. The at­tacker used a key to en­ter in the dark­ness of night and at­tacked the young woman in her bed. I will never for­get the sneer on Reiger’s face as he lis­tened to Josephine de­scribe the hor­rific events of that night in Fe­bru­ary 1979. And I will al­ways re­mem­ber and marvel at her courage and strength. She tes­ti­fied that, while he was bru­tal­iz­ing her, hold­ing a pil­low over her face, she con­tin­u­ally prayed aloud, not for her­self, but for the soul of the rapist.

He put three bul­lets into the back of her head at point-blank range. When she re­gained con­scious­ness, she crawled to a neigh­bor’s door for help. It wasn’t un­til she was ex­am­ined at the hospi­tal that she learned she had been shot, not pis­tol-whipped as she’d thought.

Reiger was also a sus­pect in a sim­i­lar case a year be­fore this at­tack. In March 1978, Elise Watan­abe was raped and fa­tally shot in her apart­ment, in the same build­ing where Josephine was at­tacked. Elise’s mur­der has re­mained un­solved.

In 1985, Reiger ap­pealed his con­vic­tion but was de­nied. Af­ter serv­ing nearly 20 years in prison, he was re­leased in 1999. Seven years later, he was ar­rested and charged with fail­ure to reg­is­ter as a con­victed sex of­fender. Aside from that, he has ap­par­ently lived qui­etly and un­event­fully since his re­lease, at the same Oahu home that he and his wife moved into in 1965.

My late hus­band and I had an on­go­ing philo­soph­i­cal dis­cus­sion about man’s po­ten­tial for vi­o­lence and cru­elty. He be­lieved that hu­mans, like all an­i­mals, are born with in­stincts but no con­science. Val­ues and traits like com­pas­sion and kind­ness are learned, he main­tained. I dis­agreed, and still do, be­liev­ing that peo­ple are ba­si­cally good; that anti-so­cial be­hav­ior re­sults from en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors and/or psy­cho­log­i­cal anom­alies.

On the court beat, I ob­served dozens of psy­chopaths and hard­ened crim­i­nals. By the time I left KITV, cyn­i­cism and pes­simism had taken hold of me. Mov­ing back to Maui helped me re­gain my rosy out­look on life. And re­mem­ber­ing peo­ple like Josephine Hoapili keeps me mind­ful of how ex­tra­or­di­nary we hu­mans can be.

Kathy Collins is a sto­ry­teller, ac­tress and free­lance writer whose “Shar­ing Mana‘o” col­umn ap­pears every Wed­nes­day. Her email ad­dress is kc­maui913@gmail.com.

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