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Hawaii trial set for psychiatric patient charged in escape

FILE - In this Nov. 17, 2017, file photo, escaped hospital patient Randall points to a guard as he sits in an inmate visitor's booth at San Joaquin County Jail before a scheduled court hearing in French Camp, Calif. The attorney representing Saito, who escaped from a Hawaii psychiatric hospital says Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, his client wants to go to trial. Attorney Michael Green says Randall Saito "wants to get his story out there." In November 2017, Saito walked out of Hawaii State Hospital and was captured days later in Stockton, California.(AP Photo/Terry Chea, File)

HONOLULU (AP) — A man who spent decades in a Hawaii psychiatric hospital for killing a woman wants to go to trial on escape and identity theft charges after authorities said he fled the facility and flew to California before being captured, his defense attorney said Thursday.

Randall Saito appeared via video from a Honolulu jail on Thursday and watched as attorney Michael Green entered a not guilty plea on his behalf at his arraignment.

“He wants to get his story out there,” Green told The Associated Press.

In November 2017, authorities said Saito walked out of Hawaii State Hospital, where he was sent in 1981 after he was acquitted of murder by reason of insanity in the 1979 killing of Sandra Yamashiro.

After leaving the hospital, Saito called a taxi that took him to the airport, where he took a chartered flight to Maui. He used an alias to arrange the flight and paid $1,445 cash for it, prosecutors said. Then he took a commercial flight to San Jose, California, prosecutors said.

When he was arrested in Stockton, California three days after his escape, he had more than $6,000 in cash and fake Washington state and Illinois driver’s licenses bearing his photos with different names, prosecutors said.

While the escape is a “foregone conclusion,” Saito wants to fight the identity theft charge, Green said.

Trial is scheduled for March.

While jailed in California, Saito gave various interviews with reporters, including the AP. He said he escaped to show that he should be free. “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 at the time.

A state attorney general’s office investigation found no single employee directly responsible for the escape. A nearly 1,600-page redacted copy of the report doesn’t offer any significant details into how Saito was able to escape and fly to California before authorities were notified he was missing.

Lax oversight contributed to Saito’s escape, the report said. “The absence of comprehensive procedures to account for patients’ whereabouts, the lack of communication between staff performing different functions, and the relaxing of patient oversight contributed not only to Saito’s being able to escape from the facility but to an eleven-hour delay in reporting this escape,” it said.

Patient counts were not conducted on the day Saito escaped because staff members didn’t have time to do them, according to an unnamed employee interviewed for the report.

Saito had established and continued to reap the benefits of an “honor system,” whereby he was free to roam the grounds unsupervised and everyone expected him to return to his unit at the end of the day,” he report said.

After Saito’s escape, six hospital employees were placed on off-duty status. Two have since retired, and the other four will be reinstated. No employees will be disciplined. The state would have difficulty establishing “just and proper cause” for disciplining a union employee, the report said.

No employees provided Saito with the materials that helped him escape, Attorney General Russell Suzuki said.

Hawaii Health Director Bruce Anderson said Wednesday that part of the problem was that hospital staff members were complacent about Saito’s escape risk.

“That’s an embarrassment,” Green said. “They were out of touch with what was happening.”

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AP journalist Mark Thiessen contributed to this report from Anchorage, Alaska.

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.



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