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Judge rules Hilo man who tried to rape a woman in airplane bathroom is insane

  • STAR-ADVERTISER / OCT. 14, 2014

    Michael Tanouye

A Hilo man who tried to rape a woman in the bathroom of a Japan Airlines flight is not guilty by reason of insanity, a judge ruled at a brief trial Wednesday.

The FBI said Michael Tanouye forced his way into the airplane bathroom and attempted to sexually assault a female passenger on Oct. 11, 2014. He also injured another passenger who, along with flight attendants and other passengers, went to help the woman.

While struggling with Tanouye the woman was able to push the bathroom’s emergency button. The woman’s mother, the flight attendants and other passengers tried to open the lavatory door but were unable because Tanouye was blocking the door, a court affidavit said. They had to open the door by removing screws from its hinges.

The plane’s captain turned the plane around and returned to Honolulu following the incident. The airplane had been less than two hours into its flight to Kansai International Airport.

Tanouye doesn’t dispute the FBI’s account of what happened aboard JAL flight 791.

His lawyer Rick Sing presented medical and psychiatric reports prepared by federal prison staff that say Tanouye was suffering from a severe mental disease at the time and is therefore not legally responsible for his actions.

U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson found Tanouye not guilty by reason of insanity and set a hearing for April to determine whether he should remain in custody for the protection of others.

Tanouye has been in custody since his arrest.

The verdict is based on facts that Michael Tanouye’s defense attorney and a prosecutor agreed upon, including conclusions from mental health evaluations.

Not guilty by reason of insanity is “the only reasonable and sensible” verdict, the judge said.

Before the incident, Tanouye was heard shouting something incomprehensible, and his mother told a flight attendant he suffers from depression and is on medication. He stood up to walk around and appeared calm, telling flight attendants he was going to visit his grandmother. Flight attendants agreed not to serve him alcohol because he was on medication.

After the incident, Tanouye’s mother gave him a dose of his medicine and he fell asleep, the affidavit said.

The verdict is the same for a charge that Tanouye assaulted an inmate at Honolulu Federal Detention Center after the plane landed in Honolulu.

Tanouye is expected to go to a North Carolina facility for further mental health evaluations. A hearing will determine whether Tanouye is dangerous.

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The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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