HONOLULU (KHON) – Hawaii State Hospital patient Randall Saito appeared before the San Joaquin County Court Friday.
He left the hospital Sunday morning and was arrested Wednesday in Stockton, California.
During his extradition hearing, the judge asked Saito how he felt about being sent back to Hawaii to face an escape charge.
“Well, uh, first of all, the waive extradition thing, uh, I really don’t want to go back to Hawaii,” he replied. “I don’t trust the administration. I don’t feel safe. I have no faith in the Department of Health in Hawaii.”
Saito was acquitted of a 1979 murder by reason of insanity. He has been at the hospital since he was initially committed in 1981.
Speaking to the media from the county jail Thursday, he admitted to killing Sandra Yamashiro and said he was desperate to leave.
“The hospital was never going to release me. They were never going to give me a chance, wo whether this worked out or not, or whether it made things worse, what does it matter?” Saito said.
The California public defender assigned to Saito asked the judge for more time, so his hearing was pushed back to Nov. 27, the Monday after Thanksgiving.
Some legal experts say Saito’s escape and jailhouse interview can actually work in his favor.
Experts say the last few days could prove that Saito is legally sane, so if he serves time for the escape charge, it’s possible that he could then be released from the state hospital.
“There’s a strong argument that by him escaping, he’s going to talk his way out of being in the state hospital. It can happen. That’s just the way the law is,” said defense attorney Michael Green.
Green says if Saito is found guilty of the escape charge and serves his sentence, he could then make the case against returning to the state hospital by saying he’s no longer criminally insane. Green says Saito’s meticulously planned escape along with his demeanor on camera can support that.
“He’s clearly, in my view, seems very lucid, very stable,” Green said. “He’s able to conclude various things. He expresses why he did things 37 years ago. He remembers all of this, why he did it. He prays everyday for the victim. This guy is very, very slick.”
Whether Saito planned this all along is hard to say, but he would still have to prove that he’s not a danger to society.
University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law assistant professor Ken Lawson says that would be critical in keeping Saito in the state hospital.
“So it would make sense for the state to say even if he serves that five years, to say he is still a danger to the community and he should be back at the state hospital?” KHON2 asked.
“Yeah. He understood his actions when he escaped,” Lawson said. “We’re not saying that he’s not guilty by reason of insanity on this one, but he still can’t be released because he hasn’t been restored to sanity. The reason why? He’s still a danger. So the fact that he’s not back on the street doesn’t mean that he’s mentally insane anymore, legally insane anymore. It just means that you haven’t been restored enough to where we think the community is safe when you’re on the street.”
If Saito asks the court to declare him legally sane, a panel of three doctors would have to examine Saito and make a recommendation to the judge. The judge would then determine whether Saito should be released from the state hospital.
We reached out to the state attorney general’s office about this, and a spokesman did not want to comment.
In a new interview from jail, Saito admitted he used a fake ID to get to California.
“I got a fake ID and I used it, and it worked. A pretty good one. I was surprised,” he said.
Lawmakers say Saito’s fake ID could have helped authorities catch him quicker if they were notified.
When asked how he obtained one, Saito replied, “No, no, no, I can’t tell any of it, but I can tell you it was pretty good. I mean, I was surprised it actually worked. I was expecting, almost every leg of the way, I was expecting for them to be right around the corner, just coming at me.”
State Rep. Matt LoPresti, vice chair of the House Committee on Public Safety, says Saito should have been caught at the airport.
“It doesn’t matter if someone has a fake ID or traveling under an alias. If you give TSA the information, they can still stop the person from fleeing,” he said.
LoPresti got an answer from TSA: Airport authorities weren’t alerted until Tuesday, two days after Saito escaped.
LoPresti got a hold of TSA through the Hawaii State Fusion Center, which helps coordinate and communicate between federal, state, and local agencies in the interest of public safety.
The center says it wasn’t notified of Saito’s escape.
It took 10 hours for Hawaii State Hospital employees to alert law enforcement. By that time, Saito had already left the state.
“If we get the word ‘escapee,’ it’s going to be standing operating policy. We’re going to get that to TSA, as well as the airport duty manager, as well as the airlines. We have partners as well,” said Paul Epstein with Hawaii State Fusion Center.
The health department said Hawaii State Hospital is taking corrective actions since Saito’s escape.
U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D, Hawaii, who recently flew in from Washington D.C., says Hawaii State Hospital has a history of personnel-related matters, as detailed in an extensive report presented to the state legislature in 2014.
“How did it fall through the cracks like it did? That you now need retraining? Clearly, that’s something that should not be a response at this stage, not after all those studies and reports,” she said.