Fugitive Justin Waiki was hiding in the back of an SUV on Friday when it approached a police roadblock in the Kau area of Big Island.
When police inspected the car, that’s when Waiki reportedly shot and injured Sergeant Bryan Tina. Several officers returned fire, ultimately killing Waiki. Jamie Jason, who was also hiding in the back of the vehicle, suffered gun shot wounds. She was taken to the hospital.
Also in the car were Malia Lajala, 30, Jorge Pagan-Torres, 35, and Krystal Ferreira, 29. The three were charged with accomplice to attempted murder in the first degree, which carries the penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
University of Hawaii at Manoa law school professor Ken Lawson thinks it will be challenging for prosecutors to prove the charge.
“They have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, that when they drove this guy, they drove this guy specifically to a place where he could kill a cop,” said Lawson.
“And they all agreed: ‘We’re going to find a cop and we’re going to help you kill that cop.’ Then he tries to kill the cop, and he doesn’t. That’s the attempted part of the charge. ‘ Now, they’re all guilty,” continued Lawson. “That’s what prosecutors have to demonstrate, as opposed to, ‘We’re going to help you get away from the police. Hide in the back, cover up. We’re going to sneak you through these road blocks.'”
The manhunt for Waiki was heavily publicized through news outlets and social media. The fugitive was able to evade investigators for 3 days before he was captured and killed. The notoriety of the case, Lawson says, will play a role when Lajala, Pagan-Torres and Ferreira go to trial.
“That’s the danger of charging someone with crimes like this. Because it’s emotional. Nobody wants to see anybody get away but the question is, is that the crime these people committed? Why should they be punished? Is it because the guy is no longer here? So we’re looking for somebody else to punish?” said Lawson.
Attorney Peter Carlisle counters, “Can a jury in Hawaii be fair? Absolutely.”
Carlisle, a former Honolulu prosecutor, says Big Island prosecutors will have to rely on circumstantial evidence to prove the charge of accomplice in first degree attempted murder. Circumstantial evidence is defined as “not drawn from direct observation of a fact in issue.”
“You have to prove the state of mind. You have to decide what’s going on inside that person’s mind. That is something you’re allowed to use – circumstantial evidence – and in fact, in many cases circumstantial evidence is the only type of evidence that can be used to create that type of conviction,” said Carlisle.
Lajala, Pagan-Torres and Ferreira were in court in Kona on Tuesday afternoon for a preliminary hearing. The three are back in court August 23rd.