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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Ruling delays sentence in gasoline attack

By Ken Kobayashi
Advertiser Courts Writer

The sentencing for a man who doused a neighbor with gasoline and set him afire was postponed for five months yesterday because of a recent federal appeals court ruling.

Keith Yamamoto, 41, was to be sentenced on charges of assault and criminal property damage in connection with a 2004 attack on the victim.

But Yamamoto is among an estimated 100 defendants whose sentencing may be affected by a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that said a jury and not a judge must decide factors, such as the defendant's dangerousness, that would warrant extended terms.

City prosecutors are asking that Yamamoto be sentenced to an extended term of 20 years rather than the 10 years he would normally face. They argue that his multiple convictions warrant the higher sentence because he poses a danger to the public.

But city Deputy Prosecutor Wayne Tashima asked for the postponement in view of the Jan. 11 ruling by the appeals court.

The decision, which was based on U.S. Supreme Court rulings, overturned the attempted man-slaughter sentence of life with parole for Wayman Kaua, whose 22-hour standoff with police in 1998 closed the only road to Pacific Palisades. After the Hawai'i Supreme Court upheld the life term, Kaua appealed to U.S. District Judge Susan Mollway Oki, who overturned the sentence.

The appeals court affirmed Mollway's decision.

Tashima told Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto yesterday that prosecutors are challenging the appeals court ruling, asking that a larger panel of judges rehear the case. If the decision isn't overturned, Tashima said his office will ask that the jury that sat through Yamamoto's trial be recalled or a new jury impaneled for the prosecution's request for the extended term.

Deputy Public Defender Darcia Forester asked Sakamoto to follow the appeals court ruling.

Sakamoto postponed the sentencing until June 30. Yamamoto remains in custody unable to post $100,000 bail.

The hearing drew about a dozen supporters of Yamamoto as well as the victim, Lai "Peter" Leong, who suffered scarring mostly on the left side of his shoulder and back. Tashima said Leong was disappointed about the postponement because he wanted the matter resolved quickly.

Reach Ken Kobayashi at kkobayashi@honoluluadvertiser.com.