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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 9, 2006

Murderer gets life term despite wish to swap plea

By Ken Kobayashi
Advertiser Courts Writer

When Ronald J. Howe was in court last year about to go on trial, he made the surprising move of not contesting a murder charge carrying the state's harshest sentence of life without parole.

Yesterday, he returned to court for his sentencing with a new wrinkle.

He wanted to withdraw his no-contest plea and stand trial. Howe testified he did not murder 46-year-old Robyn Mae Nakaji of Kapahulu. He said he pleaded no contest because he feared the real killers would retaliate against his sister.

Howe, 49, said he has since learned his sister was doing fine and he should "tell the truth."

But Circuit Judge Dexter Del Rosario ruled that Howe's concerns for his sister is no new information justifying the withdrawal of the plea. The judge said Howe knew what he was doing when he pleaded no contest.

Del Rosario denied the request and sentenced Howe to the life term without parole for committing a murder that was particularly cruel and heinous.

"I think it was fair," Nakaji's sister-in-law Earlynn Delizo said. "You know, you can't bring her back, but at least Honolulu doesn't have somebody like that walking around."

Deputy Public Defender Walter Rodby said he will appeal the conviction.

Howe was found guilty of murdering Nakaji, whose body was found April 23, 2004, wrapped in a blanket and tarp near the entrance to a farm on Old Fort Weaver Road in 'Ewa. Her throat had been slashed.

According to prosecutors, Howe killed Nakaji because he suspected she stole an ounce of marijuana from him and his sister. Nakaji denied stealing marijuana, but said if she stole the marijuana, it would be "finders keepers," the prosecution said.

Nakaji's body was found with a note that said, "finders keepers," prosecutors said.

In support of his request to withdraw his plea, Howe testified he was staying with his sister in a Kapahulu apartment that he said Nakaji used for drug dealing. He said Nakaji appeared at the apartment the day before her body was found with two men he saw for the first time.

Howe said the three went into his sister's bedroom and closed the door. He said he later heard pounding from the room and when he opened the door, he saw the two men beating her. One of the men pulled a gun on him and told him his sister was an undercover police officer and she and Nakaji were trying to set up the men.

"I didn't kill this girl," Howe said.

Howe said he didn't know their names other than one of them saying his name was "Boy."

Howe said he feared if they could kill Nakaji, they could do the same to his sister, which is why he pleaded no contest in order to protect her.

After he pleaded no contest, the sister assured him she was doing fine, he said.

City Deputy Prosecutor Kevin Takata urged the judge to reject Howe's request. Howe gave conflicting accounts of the slaying, adding a fourth one yesterday. "His story about one, two or three other people killing her is absolutely ridiculous," Takata said after the hearing.

Under state law, Howe can ask the governor to commute his sentence to life with parole after he serves 20 years in prison. If the governor grants the request, it will be up to state paroling officials to decide when Howe could be released on parole.

Reach Ken Kobayashi at kkobayashi@honoluluadvertiser.com.