Newspaper accounts at the time portrayed Alfred Tai as a leader of a stick-up crew. He was convicted of killing two Honolulu police officers.

Alfred Joy Tai, who served more than 59 consecutive years in prison for the murders of two Honolulu police officers in 1963, died earlier this week in an Arizona prison, according to Hawaii corrections officials.

Tai, 79, was serving a sentence for first-degree murder at the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona, in the shooting deaths of Officers Andrew Morales and Abraham Mahiko in Kakaako in 1963.

According to a written statement from the Hawaii Department of Public Safety, Tai notified staff at the prison on March 20 he was suffering from “an apparent medical condition.” He was taken to an Arizona hospital, which then notified the prison that Tai had died on Sunday.

CCA Arizona Saguaro Correctional Center2. 5 march 2016
The Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona currently houses more than 900 Hawaii inmates as well as prisoners from other states. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2016)

Hawaii holds more than 900 prisoners in the privately operated Saguaro facility in Arizona because there is no room for them in Hawaii prisons.

Newspaper accounts from the early 1960s portrayed Tai as leader of a stick-up crew that robbed at least one Honolulu bar, and was planning another robbery. The police officers were shot after they stopped a car early on Dec. 16, 1963, at the intersection of Cooke and Kawaiahao Streets.

The shootings triggered a massive, city-wide manhunt, and Mayor Neal Blaisdell described the case as “one of the most brutally callous acts of murder in the history of this city.”

Morales, 33, left a wife and three children. Mahiko, 22, had a wife and daughter. His son Abraham Jr. was born after his death.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 1965 published a word-for-word confession to police by Donald Kealoha, who was convicted as an accessory in the murders. Kealoha told police he was riding in a car with Tai, Kenneth Lono and John Requilman Jr. when the officers ordered them to pull over.

Alfred Tai served more than 59 years in prison. (Hawaii Department of Public Safety)

A prosecutor in the case told The Honolulu Advertiser the men had weapons in the car because they were planning to rob a Kakaako bar called Club Nikko. Three of the men in the car were on parole, and one of the officers apparently recognized someone in the group.

According to Kealoha, they stopped the car as instructed by police, and Lono and Tai then produced guns. 

Tai handed a gun to Kealoha, and Lono then stepped out of the car and shot one officer, according to Kealoha. Tai shot the second officer with a .45-caliber handgun, according to Kealoha.

Kealoha recalled that the shooters then turned on him. “Then one of them said, ‘Why don’t you shoot, punk?’ So I stuck my hand out of the window  and shot one or two shots,” Kealoha told the detective.

Tai was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for a robbery of the Paradise Cocktail Lounge in 1964, and on April 12, 1965, finally pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of the police officers. He was 21 when he entered his plea.

The Honolulu Advertiser reported in 1963 that Tai “had been in trouble with the law since he was 10.” He was first sent to the youth correctional facility known as Koolau Boy’s Home in 1957 after he was allegedly involved in more than 30 burglaries, according to the newspaper.

When he was 16 he escaped from Koolau in 1958 and went on a crime spree that ended after he fired shots at police during a standoff with guns he had stolen in a burglary, according to The Advertiser.

He was tried as an adult for those offenses, then sent to Oahu Prison in 1959. He was paroled four years later and later was arrested in the shooting deaths.

William Among, the superintendent at the youth prison, told the newspaper in 1963 that Tai took to cutting his wrists “with an old razor blade once in a while. Either he was trying to commit suicide, or trying to show the other boys how tough he was,” Among said.

An autopsy will be performed to determine Tai’s exact cause of death.

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