By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
One of two men accused of a brazen and violent daytime escape from Hawaii Community Correctional Center in December has pleaded not guilty to charges associated with the jailbreak.
Hilo Circuit Judge Glenn Hara on Thursday set trial for 31-year-old Ryan Jeffries Hamar for June 17 at 8:30 a.m. Deputy Prosecutor Jack Matsukawa told the court the trial would take about two weeks.
Jeffries-Hamar, of Kailua-Kona, and 35-year-old Jarvis Naoki Higa of Hilo allegedly assaulted an unarmed 63-year-old adult corrections officer, stole the law librarian’s car and escaped from the Hilo jail on Dec. 5, setting off an extensive manhunt.
Higa was arrested Dec. 7 in Ocean View, while Jeffries-Hamar was nabbed Dec. 13 in Hawaiian Beaches.
Both face numerous felony charges and are being held without bail in Halawa Correctional Facility on Oahu, where they’ve been incarcerated since being recaptured.
When Higa was sent to Halawa in December, state Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said officials “wanted to put him somewhere he’s going to stay.”
Jeffries-Hamar’s court-appointed attorney, Ivan Van Leer, requested that “the court intercede with the Department of Public Safety and have him housed here at HCCC, so that I have availability to the defendant.”
“I’m denied that availability and our availability to communicate is now very difficult,” Van Leer told the judge. “Or I’m gonna have to request the ability to fly to Oahu periodically to go see him, and the time that’s gonna be involved in those visits — there may be several over the course of the next month or two prior to trial — is gonna be huge.”
Hara didn’t rule on the request to have Jeffries-Hamar transferred back to the Big Island, but told Van Leer that “any issues you have in regard to access” to Jeffries-Hamar would be addressed prior to trial.
Van Leer also objected to a request by the Tribune-Herald to photograph court proceedings, saying extensive pre-trial publicity has had a negative effect on his client’s ability to get a fair trial.
“(The escape) has already been spread across the newspapers and I feel that if the newspapers continue to grab these headlines, they’re gonna impact, prejudice this community and the possibility of a jury pool,” he said. “… Things are difficult enough. This prejudice is overwhelming and overwhelming from the notion of just open press or free press.”
Hara overruled the objection and allowed the Tribune-Herald to take photos.
“We can adequately address your concerns, Mr. Van Leer, at jury selection,” the judge noted. “… And while the court acknowledges it may be more burdensome, that’s one of the burdens we pay for living in a free society with a free press.”
This is the second time Jeffries-Hamar is alleged to have escaped from DPS custody. He reportedly walked away from Hale Nani Correctional Facility, a community-based facility without walls, on Aug. 14. Police say he was taken back into custody on Sept. 10 in Kona. He was transferred from Hale Nani to HCCC after being charged with the August escape.
Jeffries-Hamar’s and Higa’s cases are separate, at least for now. Higa, who was being held at HCCC on an attempted murder charge prior to the escape, has a status conference scheduled for Monday at 2 p.m. before Hilo District Judge Harry Freitas.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.