Saito surprised escape worked

Escaped Hawaii State Hospital patient Randall Saito points toward a guard as he sits in an inmate visitor’s booth in San Joaquin County Jail before a scheduled court hearing in French Camp, Calif., on Friday. Saito, who escaped from the Oahu facility and flew to Maui and California, was captured Wednesday as the result of a tip from a taxicab driver. -- AP photo

By TERENCE CHEA and AUDREY MCAVOY, The Associated Press

FRENCH CAMP, Calif. — A man who acknowledges killing a woman nearly 40 years ago said Friday that he is surprised he was able to walk out of a psychiatric hospital on Oahu and make it to California before being captured.

Randall Saito spoke in a jail near Stockton, Calif., before briefly appearing in court and telling a judge he doesn’t want to go back to Hawaii.

“I was surprised that it actually worked,” the 59-year-old said. “I was expecting almost every leg of the way, I was expecting them to be right around the corner just going to nab me.” Saito left the Hawaii State Hospital on Sunday, got a taxi to the airport and took a charter plane to Maui. From there, he caught another flight to San Jose, Calif.

He refused to say if anyone helped him escape, where he got the money to travel or how he acquired what he called “a pretty good” fake ID. He insisted that he only escaped to show that he should be free.

“I had no delusions of settling down. That’s grandiose. I was just trying to get as much time as possible under my belt to prove my point that I could be in the community without supervision and not be truculent or violent or stupid,” Saito said.

“I just wanted a track record to throw back into the hospital and say, ‘Look, nobody was there to supervise me. I was out. I didn’t drink. I didn’t drug. I didn’t hurt anybody,” he said.

Saito said he knew his money would run out at some point.

“But I wanted to extend my time out there as much as possible, maximize my record, my track record, that would be in and of itself irrefutable proof that I was out there doing it,” he said.

Saito was acquitted of murder by reason of insanity in the 1979 killing of Sandra Yamashiro. A 2002 Honolulu Advertiser article said that Saito picked his victim at random.

“I am terribly contrite for what I did,” he said this week. “I’ve regretted it from the day I realized that I had done it. And no one can be sorrier than I because no one is more culpable.”

He said he faked mental illness to get out of a prison sentence and go to the state hospital instead.

Saito, who has said he abused substances before the killing, said that the hospital was never going to give him a chance so “whether this worked out or not, or whether it made things worse, what does it matter?”

“I was riding that cab. The wind was blowing in my face. I was looking at all the lights in San Jose, and I actually felt human. And I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God, I’m a human being,'” he said.

Saito was captured Wednesday in Stockton after authorities got a tip from a taxi driver.

The driver said that she gave him a ride Tuesday before he called back and requested her again.

She said Friday that she wonders whom Saito knows and if her life is in jeopardy.

In court, Saito refused to agree to immediately be sent back to Hawaii, where he faces escape charges. Prosecutors called it a “stall tactic.” He’s set to be back in court in California on Nov. 27.

Saito didn’t have privileges to leave the hospital grounds without an escort. His repeated attempts to win such passes were rejected by the court. But he was allowed to roam the hospital grounds unattended.

It took hospital officials at least eight hours to notify law enforcement that Saito was missing. Gov. David Ige has said that the public and authorities should have been notified much sooner.

The state has placed seven hospital employees on unpaid leave while it investigates. It also began reviewing patient privileges and public visitation polices and has ordered more fencing.