Dozens of hospital patients acquitted of violent crimes with no way to track them

Michael Robert Lawrence, 1999

It’s been three months since confessed murderer Randall Saito escaped from Hawaii State Hospital in Kaneohe, and we’re still waiting for answers on how he was able to get out of the secured facility.

We’ve also been trying to get a list of other people who were court-ordered to stay at the facility, especially those like Saito, who’d been acquitted of violent crimes because they were mentally unfit, but considered too dangerous to be let back into society.

The Hawaii Department of Health, which runs the hospital, wouldn’t tell us because of privacy laws, but with help from the Hawaii State Judiciary, we were able to find some names.

In October 2012, Clayton Higa was acquitted of murder by reason of insanity, and was sent to Hawaii State Hospital.

Police say six years earlier, Higa, a pig farmer in Maili, beat his girlfriend on the head with a hammer, then stabbed himself, then called the victim’s aunt.

“He said, ‘Oh, who’s this?’ I said, ‘Aunty Belinda,’ and he said, ‘I just killed your niece,'” Belinda Torres said in February 2006.

Micah White, 2006

In February 2006, Micah White was acquitted of a double murder.

“I think he’s going to the right place. I don’t believe he should be in prison,” Micah White’s father, Sam White, said in February 2006.

Prosecutors said two years earlier that White had stabbed his mother and aunt in Kailua, then set them on fire.

Mental health experts testified that White suffered a psychotic break and believed the two women were vampires.

In October 2017, Daniel Manuel was acquitted of murder.

Police said in January 2017 that Manuel killed his roommate by setting their Kalihi home on fire.

“Tenants of that particular residence observed another tenant lighting what appeared to be a flammable liquid on some bedding within in the residence,” Lt. Phillip Lavarias of the Honolulu Police Department said in January 2017.

Michael Robert Lawrence, 1999

In April 2002, Michael Robert Lawrence was acquitted of murder.

Three years earlier, he was accused of killing a vacuum cleaner salesman who was giving a demonstration at his home in Waialua.

His mother, Carolyn Lawrence, witnessed part of the attack. “He had a hammer in his hand,” she said in November 1999.

Those are some of the people still at the state hospital.

We’ve learned many others, including those accused of violent crimes, are treated and released, but the public doesn’t have a way to easily find out when they’re let out.

Health department spokeswoman, Janice Okubo, told us: “DOH is unable to provide the names of patients or confirm the names of individuals receiving treatment.”

She went on to say it’s “due to strict federal and state laws that protect confidentiality.”

So is there anything Hawaii lawmakers can do to change that?

“That’s a good question, and spot on no, and the reason why is because, again, HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) protects them and that’s the hard nut that we just can’t crack. The federal law supremacy clause will go over the state law,” said State Rep. John Mizuno, D, Health and Human Services Committee Chair.

The only time the health department tells us who’s at the state hospital is when someone escapes, but only sometimes.

Since 2001, more than a hundred people have escaped from the state hospital, but the public is rarely told about them, again because of privacy laws.

“To me, that’s an all-points bulletin. Let everyone know we need to capture this person. He or she is an escapee. That’s normal thinking. With HIPAA and state law going up against federal law, it’s not as clear. It’s up to the doctor and depends on if that person has a violent tendency or not,” Mizuno said.

That’s the only exception to the law: when the public is at risk of harm or danger because of a patient, and that’s based on a doctor’s opinion. Only then do we find out from the health department who lives at the state hospital.

Out of the nearly 600 patients Hawaii State Hospital oversees, including those at other psych facilities and halfway houses, about 20 percent were acquitted of crimes by reason of insanity.

The judiciary gave us a list of all those acquitted of violent crimes, like murder and sex assault, dating back to the 1970s. They’re people sent to the state hospital, but not necessarily still there.

Click here to view the full list.

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