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After 13 years in prison and a vacated conviction, man released from custody

He is sentenced to prison terms he already served

WAILUKU — After spending more than 13 years in prison, a man was released from custody Tuesday when he was sentenced to concurrent prison terms he had already served for drug crimes dating back more than a decade.

Alberto Villados Jr., now 51, had his 2010 felony drug conviction vacated by the state Supreme Court, which, in an order issued in August, sent the case back to 2nd Circuit Court.

The higher court decision resulted in “essentially putting the clock back to the time before the judgment was entered,” said 2nd Circuit Judge Peter Cahill.

He followed a plea agreement between the defense and prosecution in sentencing Villados to 10 years in prison, which he had already served, after he pleaded no contest Tuesday to second-degree promotion of a dangerous drug.

The charge stems from his arrest Feb. 20, 2008, when police seized 9.35 grams of methamphetamine found in a waistpack in the living room of his home.

In a December 2009 trial, Villados was convicted as charged of second-degree promotion of a dangerous drug and possessing drug paraphernalia. In April 2010, then-2nd Circuit Judge Shackley Raffetto sentenced Villados to consecutive prison terms totaling 15 years in the case, as well as consecutive prison terms in some drug cases for which he was on probation for a total of 35 years.

Villados appealed to the Intermediate Court of Appeals and later asked his appellate attorney to seek review by the Hawaii Supreme Court. When she didn’t do so, Villados filed his own petition for review, which was dismissed because the deadline had passed.

In 2013, Villados filed a petition for relief in 2nd Circuit Court alleging he hadn’t been effectively assisted by his appellate attorney. Judge Cahill, who presided over the petition hearings, concluded the appellate attorney was ineffective but found he couldn’t order a new trial as Villados sought.

Villados appealed to the Intermediate Court of Appeals, then petitioned the state Supreme Court.

Deputy Public Defender Ben Lowenthal was in private practice when he represented Villados in his 2013 petition. Villados waived any conflict so Lowenthal could again represent Villados, who had spent most of the past decade incarcerated at Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Ariz.

“He has made the most of his time,” Lowenthal said. “He has served over a decade of prison. I believe he has learned a lot, not only about the system but about himself.

“He is no longer a young man. He’s coming out of the system with new challenges.”

“It’s done right now. I’m glad,” Villados said in court Tuesday.

When Judge Cahill asked what Villados planned to do, he said, “Get a job, start over.”

Villados said he would stay with his cousin and has an adult son he last saw in 2008.

In four probation violation cases, he was resentenced Tuesday to five-year prison terms for four counts each of third-degree promotion of a dangerous drug and possessing drug paraphernalia in 2003 and 2004 cases.

Cahill ordered that Villados serve all prison terms at the same time.

“None of us ever want to see you back here in court unless you’re coming to say hello,” Cahill told Villados. “You’ve spent a long time in prison. Your persistence paid off.”

Cahill said Villados’ case has changed how courts can handle petitions for relief.

In a blog post about a Hawaii Supreme Court decision in Villados’ case, Lowenthal wrote that the higher court noted that trial courts handling such petitions alleging ineffective assistance of appellate counsel don’t have to dismiss the petition and require an appeal. Instead, trial courts can have the appeals court vacate a judgment, Lowenthal wrote.

Said Cahill: “It’s empowered trial judges more than before.”

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

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