Closure might come soon in 1979 slaying
By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Mike Gordon
There were witnesses, a bloody knife and a suspect in custody. But after 48 hours in a Honolulu police cellblock, the man arrested in the stabbing death of Eric Mausert was released, pending further investigation.
Homicide detectives asked him not to leave O'ahu, but he left anyway, traveling beyond the reach of U.S. extradition treaties to his home in the Philippines.
It seemed, in February 1979, that the Mausert case would never be resolved.
But for the first time in almost 27 years, Hawai'i authorities are reviewing the case, with a new extradition treaty and a special cold-case unit to pursue a forgotten crime.
And despite bizarre events that include an alleged threat against a Honolulu prosecutor, Mausert's only surviving relatives say their quest for justice may be near an end.
"I don't know that the pain will be ever taken away, but I think the edge of bitterness I have around the memory of the case can be dulled by seeing the legal system finally work," said Kurt Mausert, one of Eric Mausert's younger brothers.
Eric Mausert died on Feb. 22, 1979.
He had accompanied a friend and a newlywed couple to the home of the bride's parents in Salt Lake, police said at the time. All of them were Hare Krishna followers and their faith was a source of friction within the bride's Catholic family.
The newlyweds planned to leave for California, and the news prompted several arguments. After a struggle at the door, they fled the apartment.
They allegedly were chased by the bride's angry brother, police said.
When the chase reached the parking lot, where Mausert was waiting, he tried to intervene.
He was stabbed once in the heart with a 5-inch knife, police said. The 29-year-old, a native of Schenectady, N.Y., died at nearby Tripler Army Medical Center.
"He wasn't looking for a fight," Kurt Mausert, now a 48-year-old defense attorney in upstate New York, said via telephone. "He just put up his arms to say, 'Hey, let's not do this.' "
The bride's brother, Juvenal A. Llaneza, was arrested.
Kurt Mausert was 21 and also a Krishna follower when his brother died. He flew to Hawai'i to oversee his brother's cremation and persuade police to re-arrest the suspect and charge him.
After five weeks, though, he was surprised to discover that the bride's brother had returned to the Philippines.
The experience deeply affected Kurt Mausert ever since.
Even when an O'ahu grand jury indicted Llaneza, 24, on a charge of manslaughter in June 1979, the action against a man long gone left Mausert feeling angry and emotionally scarred.
"I had nightmares for years," Mausert said. "I had a recurring dream that my brother was alive. I would wake up, I would realize it was a dream and I would wake up in tears."
TREATY OPENS OPTIONS
Over the years, Mausert would occasionally call an investigator with the Honolulu prosecutor's office to see if there were developments in the case. The answer was always the same: The United States had no legal way to extradite a foreign national from the Philippines.
But last September, Mausert personally checked with the U.S. State Department and learned that an extradition treaty had been in place since 1996.
Subsequent calls to the surprised investigator and a Google search that located Llaneza — now a union official in Manila — triggered a new review by Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle.
And that's when the case really got complicated.
Carlisle said he decided his office could not handle the case when he learned that another of Eric Mausert's brothers, Mark Mausert, had been accused of threatening the head of the prosecutor's Screening Intake Division in 1991. Carlisle said the division head was so upset, he filed a police report.
The division decides the fate of many cases brought before the prosecutor, and the division head, Larry Grean, had spoken with Mausert's family in 1979. Grean declined to comment on the alleged threat.
So Carlisle last fall arranged to transfer the case to the state attorney general's relatively new cold-case unit.
But the Mausert brothers have continued to call and write the prosecutor.
"We can't have us pursuing the case after we filed something against one of the people who is a party, the brother of the victim," Carlisle said. "And so we shipped it over to the attorney general and then we get more and more irate phone calls."
Mark Mausert, a 53-year-old federal civil-rights attorney from Reno, Nev., said he never threatened anyone, but stated that the prosecutor's office is "corrupt" and "incompetent" because it freed Llaneza without holding his passport.
"I am not a violent man," Mark Mausert said. "I'm a vegetarian. I'm a peaceful man."
Mausert's case is not a typical cold case, because a suspect has been indicted. Still, the attorney general's office is reviewing it. Cold cases typically deal with new evidence, new witnesses and a search for suspects not previously identified.
Donald Wong, chief investigator for the attorney general's office and supervisor of the cold-case unit, said there are concerns about the case, but a decision could be made as early as this week. He could not elaborate, however.
"I know from the investigator's point of view, there might be a few problems that may need to be straightened out," Wong said. "If there is a shot, you can bet your life we are going to take it. That is what this unit is all about."
Deputy Attorney General Christopher Young, supervisor of the Criminal Justice Division, would not discuss the case.
The extradition process could be difficult and requires the blessing of the U.S. attorney general's office in Washington, D.C., which must decide if Llaneza is a fugitive from justice.
"Any extradition from a foreign country is difficult," Young said. "We need to work with the federal government and through diplomatic channels. It is never a simple process."
CASE 'DOESN'T SIT RIGHT'
Both Mausert brothers think about their oldest sibling often and have never stopped missing him.
And while they feel justice is near, they speak of closure unfulfilled: Their mother died in 2004.
"There is just something that doesn't sit right knowing that this person that killed my brother is enjoying life in another part of the world," Kurt Mausert said. "Every day that goes by is another day I have to live without the comfort and love I had from my brother."
Reach Mike Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org.