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5-year prison term for Hawaii State Hospital escapee who flew to California

                                Randall Saito points to a guard as he sits in an inmate visitor’s booth at San Joaquin County Jail before a scheduled court hearing in French Camp, Calif., on Nov. 17, 2017.
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Randall Saito points to a guard as he sits in an inmate visitor’s booth at San Joaquin County Jail before a scheduled court hearing in French Camp, Calif., on Nov. 17, 2017.

A man who spent decades in the Hawaii State Hospital for killing a woman was sentenced to five years in prison today for escaping from the facility in 2017 and flying to California before he was captured.

In November 2017, authorities said Randall Saito walked out of Hawaii State Hospital, where he was sent in 1981 after he was acquitted of murder by reason of insanity in the 1979 killing of Sandra Yamashiro.

After leaving the psychiatric hospital, Saito called a taxi that took him to the airport, where boarded a chartered flight to Maui. He used an alias to arrange the flight and paid $1,445 cash for it, prosecutors said. Then he took a commercial flight to the Northern California city of San Jose, prosecutors said.

When he was arrested in Stockton three days after his escape, he had more than $6,000 in cash and fake Washington state and Illinois driver’s licenses bearing his photos with different names, prosecutors said.

Saito, 62, pleaded no contest to escape and identity theft charges in September.

He apologized at his sentencing and attempted to explain his actions. “I did not elope from the hospital just to have fun,” he said. It was the only way to prove he can function safely in the community, he said.

After months of pondering, “I reluctantly decided to walk,” he said. “Your honor, the irony of having to commit a crime to prove that I was safe is not lost on me.”

Saito expressed what he said has been on his mind for a long time: “sincere and deepest sorrow” for the Yamashiro family’s loss.

“It is important that they know I committed no sexual assault nor any desecration to Sandra,” he said.

He also accused the hospital of being unsafe, alleging that there has been rape, sexual abuse and death there. “It is a milieu of ineptitude, abuse and malfeasance,” he said.

The state Department of Health issued a statement in response to Saito’s claims: “The safety of patients, workers, and the community is the highest priority at Hawaii State Hospital. Any reported incidents related to the hospital, patients and staff are taken seriously with appropriate actions in accordance with hospital policies and procedures.”

A state attorney general’s office investigation found no single employee directly responsible for the escape. A nearly 1,600-page redacted copy of the report didn’t offer any significant details into how Saito was able to escape and fly to California before authorities were notified he was missing.

Lax oversight contributed to Saito’s escape and an 11-hour delay in reporting it, the report said.

Patient counts were not conducted on the day Saito escaped because staff members didn’t have time to do them, according to an unnamed employee interviewed for the report.

Saito had established and continued to reap the benefits of an “honor system,” whereby he was free to roam the grounds unsupervised and everyone expected him to return to his unit at the end of the day, the report said.

After Saito’s escape, six hospital employees were placed on off-duty status. No employees were disciplined.

Saito will receive credit for the time he’s already served in jail, leaving about two years on his sentence, said his attorney, Myles Breiner. After serving his sentence, he will return to a newly secured wing of the hospital that he won’t be able to escape from, Deputy Attorney General Kory Young said.

“He will not be returned to the community,” Young said.

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