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 22-year-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 email@example.com.