By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A Department of Health psychologist said Thursday that a 56-year-old man accused of shooting a 32-year-old man to death late last year on the Hilo Bayfront suffers from schizophrenia and is unfit for trial.
Dr. Thomas Cunningham’s testimony came during a court hearing to determine the fitness of Mark Anthony Whyne, a former special education teacher at Pahoa High School and McKinley High School in Honolulu. Two other examiners, psychiatrists Drs. Henry Yang and Samuel Paltin, are scheduled to present their testimony on Nov. 22 at 10 a.m. before Hilo Circuit Judge Glenn Hara, who will ultimately determine if Whyne is fit to proceed.
Whyne is charged with second-degree murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony and carrying a loaded firearm. He’s accused of the fatal shooting of Faafetai Fiu on Dec. 29. According to court documents filed by police, Fiu had been shot eight times, and ballistics tests matched a 9 mm handgun police found in a fanny pack on Whyne’s body when he was arrested Feb. 4 at Wailoa Small Boat Harbor.
Both men were homeless when the slaying occurred. Court documents state that a child of Fiu’s woke up after hearing gunshots and may have witnessed the shooting.
Cunningham interviewed Whyne three times for about an hour each session at Hawaii Community Correctional Center, and testified that Whyne “said he could not remember anything about the night of the victim’s murder. In fact, he denied being at the scene and offered a different explanation of where he was.”
“He did have a memory of the time he was arrested at the boat harbor, however,” Cunningham said. “… He said he read a brochure about the boat harbor and it didn’t mention that he couldn’t have a gun there, so he didn’t believe he was in violation of the law. In fact, he said he was there with the guns because he wanted to sell them. He said he had applied for food stamps, and there was a sign at the food stamp office that said no guns allowed. He took that to mean that you could not get food stamps if you owned a weapon, so he was planning to sell all his guns and even a knife that he had, in order that he could qualify for food stamps.”
“And that was inappropriate?” asked Deputy Prosecutor Jack Matsukawa.
“I don’t think people have to sell their guns and knives so they can qualify for food stamps, so I think when he read that sign and it said no weapons allowed, he interpreted it in a very odd way,” Cunningham said.
He described Whyne’s answers to questions during interviews as both “odd” and “excessively vague.”
“He showed what I found to be an inadequate interest in putting on a defense,” Cunningham opined. “… He said things to me such as ‘it’s not up to me if I go to jail or not. Participation in my own defense will not improve the chances of a positive outcome.’”
Cunningham said he found Whyne’s “vagueness on this point a symptom of his mental disorder.” He added that Whyne expressed that he was experiencing “auditory and visual hallucinations” but was not receiving mental health treatment.
Whyne resigned from his teaching job in 2011 “for personal reasons,” McKinley Principal Ron Okamura told the Tribune-Herald in February. He was granted a divorce from his wife, Pearl, in 2012. Cunningham suggested that both events could be associated with the onset of a then-undiagnosed mental disorder.
“He was experiencing a downward trend in his life from being a married man working as a professional to becoming a homeless, unemployed loner,” he said.
Matsukawa suggested that Whyne could be malingering.
“If I told you he had a degree in psychology and a master’s in education, do you think that kind of person could tell you answers to make you think he was not fit to proceed and to reasonably fake it?” Matsukawa asked.
Replied Cunningham: “I’m not immune to someone who doesn’t even have a high school degree.”
Cunningham testified that his findings were based on “three standards of fitness: understanding the proceedings against him; assisting in his own defense; and consulting with an attorney with a reasonable degree of rational understanding. And I felt that there were weaknesses, in his case, on all points.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.