20-year prison term ordered in kidnapping case

While the sentence term was mandatory, parole board will have ultimate say

David Sheffield appears in 2nd Circuit Court with his attorney, Matthew Kohm, on Tuesday morning. Sheffield was sentenced to a 20-year prison term for kidnapping. • The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

WAILUKU — A 20-year prison term was ordered Tuesday for a man who was found guilty of kidnapping a woman by grabbing her backpack and dragging her toward bushes as she was hitchhiking in Kahului.

The sentence for David Sheffield was required by law after a 2nd Circuit Court jury that convicted him also unanimously found that he hadn’t released the woman voluntarily, said Deputy Prosecutor Emlyn Higa.

“There’s no discretion here,” 2nd Circuit Judge Peter Cahill said in imposing the 20-year prison term. “But there’s discretion on the part of the Hawaii Paroling Authority.”

The parole board will determine how much time Sheffield, 49, must serve before being eligible for parole.

During Sheffield’s trial in December, 24-year-old Sarah Brandenstein testified she had been hitchhiking home to Makawao the night of Nov. 16, 2015, when she was confronted by him at Dairy Road and Hana Highway.

She said Sheffield blocked her way as she was crossing the highway to go toward Marco’s Grill & Deli and said, “I want to f— you.”

He took a swing to try to hit her but missed before he grabbed the loop at the top of her backpack when she turned to run away, Brandenstein said. Sheffield dragged her several steps toward the bushes before she managed to spin away from him.

Brandenstein said she had run halfway across Dairy Road, with Sheffield following, when she was stopped by the traffic and ran back toward the Savers store. From there, she ran to Maui Marketplace, where she called her boyfriend, Charles Ribbel, from the Old Navy store. He drove from Makawao to pick her up in the Home Depot parking lot.

Brandenstein didn’t call police that night to report what happened.

The next day, as she and Ribbel were walking near the bus stop fronting Safeway on Kamehameha Avenue in Kahului, Brandenstein said she saw Sheffield and recognized him as the man who had accosted her.

Ribbel confronted Sheffield and held him, with help from a bystander, until police arrived.

Higa said Brandenstein wanted to be in court Tuesday to speak at Sheffield’s sentencing but now attends the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

Attorney Matthew Kohm, who was appointed to represent Sheffield after his trial, said there were “some unusual facts” in the case. That included the woman’s testimony that she ran past two police officers on her way to call her boyfriend that night, Kohm said.

After contacting professionals, “it was related to me that’s an extremely unusual response to pass up police officers who could help her,” Kohm said.

While Sheffield admitted he was at the scene that night, “he did not have the intent to commit a sexual offense or to hurt or harm this woman,” Kohm said.

He said recorded statements by the woman and her boyfriend were slightly different from their testimony to a grand jury and at trial.

When he was confronted at the bus stop, Sheffield “took a vicious beating,” Kohm said.

“There’s some argument that Charles Ribbel went looking for him,” Kohm said. “They didn’t go to police. They went to find him the next day.”

Sheffield’s sentencing had been delayed while he was examined for mental fitness by three psychiatrists or psychologists. He was found mentally fit to proceed this month.

Kohm said Sheffield wants to be involved in his 7-year-old daughter’s life.

Before being arrested in the case, Sheffield had been working for We Will Rock You Rock Walls, Kohm said.

Sheffield wasn’t able to comply as the court wanted while on Family Court probation, in part because of his mental health issues, which are serious, Kohm said.

Sheffield said he had been on the waiting list for low-income housing for 2 1/2 years before receiving approval for housing this year.

“My whole thing was just going to work, getting off the street,” Sheffield said in court Tuesday. “It was hard being on probation. I did pretty good. So I have goals.”

He said he wants to live off the grid in Kaupo.

Sheffield called the woman’s testimony “a bunch of lies about me.”

When he testified during his trial, Sheffield said he had encountered the woman as he was also hitchhiking Upcountry that night. He testified that she had offered to sell him a pound of marijuana, which he refused.

“I don’t do drugs,” Sheffield said in court Tuesday. “I don’t smoke meth. No marijuana use. Maybe drinking once in a while.”

Referring to other inmates in jail, Sheffield said, “There’s worse things happening out there than an accusation about me.”

Kohm said Sheffield wasn’t well educated.

But Judge Cahill disagreed, referring to two letters that Sheffield wrote to the court.

“But the person who wrote the letters is not the person who appeared in front of the jury,” Cahill said. “When you get on the witness stand and even when you sit in court . . . your demeanor has a big impact on how we all assess credibility. Demeanor, I think, was a huge factor in this matter.”

Cahill said Sheffield would have a chance to appeal his conviction.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.