Killer's meth ties kept out of trial
By David Waite
Advertiser Courts Writer
The scourge that is crystal methamphetamine played a significant role in the fatal shooting of Honolulu police officer Glen Gaspar in Kapolei on March 4, one that a Circuit Court jury was never told about.
Gaspar, 40, was shot twice in the left side of his chest and once in the hand as he and fellow officer Calvin Sung closed in on Mark inside a Baskin-Robbins ice-cream store at Kapolei Shopping Center.
Gaspar and Sung were part of a six-man plainclothes police team that had gone to Kapolei to arrest Mark in connection with a Feb. 1 incident in which Mark shot at two men, wounding one of them in the thigh, in the parking lot of the First Assembly of God Church parking lot in Moanalua.
Mark never denied shooting Gaspar or at the two men in the parking lot, but claimed he did so in self-defense. When Mark, 29, took the witness stand during the second week of the trial, he told the jury he did not know that Gaspar and Sung were police officers and that he thought they had been sent to retaliate for the Feb. 1 shooting.
Jurors did not respond to requests by the Advertiser to explain how they concluded Mark was guilty of the lesser offense of second-degree murder rather than first-degree murder or to say how, if they had known about the crystal methamphetamine link to the case, that might have affected their verdict.
A guilty verdict on first-degree murder charges would have meant a mandatory sentence of life without parole for Mark. A second-degree murder conviction means that Mark faces a term of life with the possibility of parole.
Had he been allowed to, City Deputy Prosecutor Christopher Van Marter would have told the jury about Mark's use of methamphetamine and how it contributed to Gaspar's death.
But in a series of pretrial hearings, Mark's lawyers, state Deputy Public Defenders Debra Loy and Theresa Marshall, fought hard to keep any meth-amphetamine-related evidence from being introduced at trial.
"All of the media in this town are on a crusade against crystal methamphetamine," Loy told Circuit Judge Karen Ahn in one of the pretrial hearings.
Ultimately, Ahn sided with Loy, ruling that mention of Mark's crystal-meth use would likely be more harmful to his right to a fair trial than it would be useful in helping jurors determine Mark's guilt or innocence. It is not unusual for judges to make such rulings before the start of a trial.
Had Ahn ruled in favor of the prosecution, Van Marter would have presented evidence that he claimed would have shown that in November or December 2002, Mark traded a gram of methamphetamine an amount that would fit easily into a one-inch square plastic bag to a friend in exchange for the .22-caliber revolver that was used in the Feb. 1 shooting and also a month later to kill Gaspar.
Van Marter was also prohibited from presenting evidence that Mark traded $150 worth of methamphetamine in late January 2003 for a surveillance camera and monitor. At trial, Van Marter had to present a sanitized version of the transaction telling the jury only that Mark traded an "item worth $150 in value" for the video camera, which Mark later came to believe was defective.
It was a confrontation over the defective video camera that resulted in Mark shooting at two men in the Assembly of God parking lot in Moanalua, wounding one of them in the thigh. The shooting, in turn, led to warrants being issued for Mark's arrest on attempted murder charges and Gaspar and Sung were attempting to arrest Mark on the basis of those warrants when Gaspar was shot and killed.
Van Marter had also hoped to present evidence that showed that Mark had abused crystal meth for months and was under the influence of methamphetamine and marijuana on the day Gaspar was shot.
He had hoped to establish that by using the results of blood that was taken from Mark at St. Francis-West Medical Center shortly after the shooting. Mark had been arrested at the ice-cream store and taken to the Kapolei police station for questioning when he became "unresponsive."
Mark was then taken to St. Francis in hopes doctors there could find out what was wrong with him. At one of the pretrial hearings, Van Marter argued that the hospital staff had told police that the results of the blood test showed Mark had a number of illicit drugs in his system, including methamphetamine and marijuana.
But Ahn ruled against the use of the blood analysis at trial, citing a prior Hawai'i Supreme Court ruling that patients have an overriding privacy interest in medical records, which prohibits information in those records from being released.
During Mark's trial, Van Marter was able to elicit testimony from Sung, and several other police officers who eventually subdued and disarmed Mark, that Mark appeared to be inordinately strong.
But Van Marter was not able to question police directly about whether they believed Mark might have been on drugs at the time Gaspar was shot.
In the end, the jury sat through two weeks of testimony and deliberated nearly five full days before finding Mark guilty of second-degree murder.
Reach David Waite at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-8030.