Last night, Always Investigating revealed the many twists and turns involving the death of Shirlene Wakisaka more than ten years ago. Tonight our look at this case – and both sides’ wait for justice – continues.
Within just a few years of a jury finding Ken Wakisaka guilty of strangling his wife Shirlene to death, he was out of prison — murder conviction reversed.
“If you prove something beyond a reasonable doubt, the law says the person is guilty,” says former deputy prosecutor Dan Oyasato. “But now the case got reversed, so now we’re back to square one.”
Square one mostly because Oyasato had made a comment to the jury about Ken Wakisaka not testifying even though that’s a defendant’s fifth-amendment right. The conviction was tossed on appeal to the Hawaii Supreme Court, but the court okayed a retrial.
“When you think about all the other legal things that could happen, double jeopardy, the relief for me at that point was at least we still have a case,” Shirlene’s daughter Tiffany Young recalls.
Both sides teed up for a do-over. Ken Wakisaka was then represented by a new defense attorney, John Edmunds.
“It goes back under the original indictment,” Edmunds recalls, “so for the first time I read the original indictment.”
Edmunds came across a grand jury request about the couple’s roommate — a tenant in a spare room.
“The grand jury wanted to hear from him and the prosecutor never subpoenaed him as a witness,” Edmunds said. “It’s as important a constitutional point in our law as any that when a grand jury wants a witness, the prosecutor has to go get him.”
So not only had the conviction been reversed, now the indictment itself — the very charge of murder — gets thrown out.
“I’ve been doing this for 45 years,” Edmunds said. “I’ve never seen that many kinds of separate independent unique mistakes in any mistakes in any case I’ve either handed, worked on or read about.”
Yet the door was still open for charges to be re-filed at any time.
KHON2 asked Shirlene’s family, how long did they think it would take for prosecutors to charge again?
“Two years. Two years at max,” Young said. “But more than a decade later there aren’t words for how long. You go to bed with the same case, you wake up with the same case, and it’s never done.”
So will prosecutors ever re-indict? They won’t officially say, telling KHON2 they cannot comment on active cases. The daughters came to Hawaii this month to get face-to-face answers.
“The prosecutor’s office doesn’t have infinite resources, but there comes a point when enough is enough,” Young said, “and when every case comes before yours every time for over a decade, it’s just not going to work anymore.”
“Can the case be proven beyond a reasonable doubt? I believe if a person goes through this evidence,” Oyasato said. “They will come up with that conclusion.”
The defense says it wasn’t murder, but possibly a suicide
“Shirlene’s treating physician had prescribed certain medications for an emotional disturbance,” Edmunds said. “She had and tried to refer Shirlene into Kahi Mohala a psychiatric facility to deal with some problems she had.”
But witnesses for the prosecution maintain Ken was the problem.
“He bought (life) insurance when he was separated, he convinced her to move back here,” Cambra said.
Did Shirlene herself was somehow leave a clue that she didn’t commit suicide.
“Many years before this, she said if something ever happens to me ask for your baby pictures,” Young said.
And as they cleared the home of their dead mother’s belongings, the envelope was there.
“Inside the envelope marked ‘baby pictures’ was a handwritten journal of Ken Wakisaka’s statements of abuse in his own handwriting,” Young said, “and there are pages in detail describing what he did to her.”
KHON2 asked what the daughters thought Shirlene was she trying to tell them?
“That what had happened was not her fault,” daughter Tammie Cocard said. “That what had happened was out of her control, and that she had not committed suicide.”
They maintain the case was murder and want the prosecutor to charge the case again.
“It’s the same facts,” Cocard said. “It’s the same evidence.”
The defense says that’s not so.
“It has changed,” Edmunds said. “We have probably the finest forensic pathologist in the world. He is telling us that the marks on Mrs. Wakisaka’s neck could not have been caused by an attempt to strangle her. They were caused in fact by the tubes that were placed in her on her neck on the 10 -11 days she was in the hospital.”
But that’s not led to the case being dropped. The defense expects charges could still come any time.
“Now my understanding is they want to come back and allege a different cause of death not strangulation but something else, I’m not exactly clear what, but it’s not strangulation,” Edmunds said.
There’s no statute of limitations for murder.
“You don’t want to go too long, the longer you go the harder it is to prove anything,” Oyasato said. “People are not getting any younger, the evidence will start to go away.”
“It needs to be wrapped up,” Cocard said. “We need to move forward with the peace and knowledge that we have done everything that we can possibly do to bring justice for our mother.”
KHON2 asked Edmunds, what is justice and peace for your client?
“A firm acquittal, or ‘it’s over. You don’t have to go back. You don’t have feel like you’ll be retried,’” Edmunds said.
He says they’re thinking about filing a federal civil rights suit for denial of due process.
“It’s just an elaborate paradox because right now he is innocent and not charged he doesn’t have a right to clear that up,” Edmunds said. “This is a tragic case all the way around, a woman died for some reason that’s tragic, he got charged, that’s tragic. These two daughters I think will never believe what the true facts are but how can I go quarrel with them?”
They who remain driven by what haunts them day and night.
“I had a dream, I do sometimes, and it’s so vivid we’re on an island, it’s dark, there’s a silver moon,” Young says. “She’s standing with me on the beach, and she’s ready to go, she knows we’re not letting go.”
“I want justice for our mom,” Cocard said. “I think she deserves it. She’s not at rest.”
So for now, both sides will keep waiting for justice, one way or another.
Related story: Waiting for Justice: Cold case revisited, Part 1