HONOLULU (KHON2) — A man awaiting trial on murder charges, and being held in solitary confinement at Halawa, was allowed out this weekend for a family event, despite the objections of prosecutors. The defendant’s attorney calls it unprecedented but says he hopes it opens doors for other detainees and inmates alike.
Jonaven Mason is awaiting trial in connection with a grisly murder. Mason and Dylon Ford were arrested in August 2020, weeks after the body of Joseph Hoffman was found in a shallow grave. Hoffman had been shot twice in the head and bound before being partially buried.
Mason has spent much of his pretrial incarceration in solitary confinement at Halawa prison. This weekend, he was allowed to walk out the front, get in the car with his dad, and attend his grandfather’s funeral in Waianae.
“It was a very nice funeral,” said Myles Breiner, Mason’s attorney. “Jonaven got an opportunity to say goodbye to his grandfather and to see his family. He performed a special hula for his grandfather at the funeral, so it was a wonderful time.”
Mason came back without incident, but the brief outing is without precedent, according to his attorney.
“This is really unusual,” Breiner said. “Normally, inmates are not allowed to participate in family funerals, but they do make exceptions. In the past, they require that at least two to four guards accompany the inmate to the funeral. They’re normally shackled both at their waist and at their ankles.”
Plus there’s a cost of more than $1,000, and only if spare guards are available. Always Investigating asked the Department of Public Safety about Mason’s no-guard outing and a spokesperson said: “Pre-trial detainees are under the jurisdiction and authority of the courts and the Department follows all court orders for release as specified by the judge.
In this instance, Judge Kevin Souza signed off, saying Mason could leave at 8:30 a.m., be back by 1 p.m., with only his father as the escort, and with a drug test upon return.
That’s a 180 from when this same judge who denied Mason’s request to attend his godfather’s funeral last fall, saying at that time: “It is not appropriate to allow” in large part because Mason’s on a no-bail hold for being a flight risk and danger to the community.
We asked, what changed? A Judiciary spokesperson said: “Decisions to grant such requests are made on a case-by-case basis at the discretion of the court after careful review of the current circumstances of the case.”
Insiders at Halawa, baffled by the move say there’s talk of a family connection. The judiciary spokesperson said: “Mason’s mother’s last name is Souza. Judge Souza has never met her nor is he aware of any relation.”
Even Mason’s attorney was surprised Mason got out, and just to his family’s custody.
“We anticipated that the court would probably not agree to that and anticipated having to ask the Department of Public Safety, what it would cost to have the guards and how many would be needed to transport him to and from the funeral?” Breiner said. “I’m very happy that this worked out. That sets a new precedent. It would have been terrible if something went wrong, if Jonathan had fled the scene and absconded, or if he tested positive for something. But we took all types of measures. We made sure that there was no inappropriate conduct in his presence.”
The prosecutor’s office argued against the release last month. They filed a motion to try to stop it. Prosecutors pointed out Mason faces a life sentence without parole if convicted. Prosecutors suggested Mason instead be allowed to link up with a video feed of the grandfather’s funeral.
“Judge Souza was very clear that this was an extremely unusual to allow this,” Breiner said.
He expects more detainees and inmates will take notice.
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“Going forward, I would hope that other people who have these issues — there’s a birth in the family, there’s a wedding, there’s a funeral — that they’re given the chance to demonstrate that they can abide by the terms and conditions of their release and not have the same burden with the extra cost of having to pay guards overtime to transport someone to a family event,” Breiner said. “This also sends a message, an important message, to other inmates that if they don’t get involved in misconduct, don’t get involved themselves in any kind of criminal activity in the facility, they stand the chance of having something similar, so it’s an incentive.”