Henrietta Stone, 65, has been locked up since 2017 while the court determines if she is mentally fit.

A woman accused in the death of her 9-year-old granddaughter has been held in the Hilo jail for six years without trial while her mental condition is evaluated, the second case of its kind to surface publicly in recent weeks.

Henrietta Stone, 65, was first locked up in the Hawaii Community Correctional Center on July 17, 2017, and has remained there while her court case is on hold as she undergoes a series of mental evaluations by experts.

Circuit Court Judge Henry Nakamoto already has granted more than two dozen continuances or delays in the case, according to court minutes. Stone’s court-appointed lawyer Stanton Oshiro on Feb. 3 asked the court for more time to allow him to seek an independent mental health expert to examine Stone.

The Stone case is similar in many respects to that of accused murderer John Ali Hoffman, who has been held in the Hilo jail for seven years without trial while experts conducted a long series of mental evaluations to determine if Hoffman is mentally fit and legally responsible for his actions.

Komohana area located at the Hawaii Community Correctional Center in Hilo.
A view of the Komohana unit for men at the Hawaii Community Correctional Center in Hilo. The ACLU of Hawaii says the cases of John Ali Hoffman and Henrietta Stone raise pressing questions about pretrial delays in some criminal cases. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

Oshiro is the defense lawyer in both cases, and Nakamoto is the judge for both. Oshiro has not responded to requests for comment. Nakamoto said through a state Judiciary spokeswoman that court rules prevent him from discussing the cases because both are still pending.

Ricky Roy Damerville, a retired county prosecutor who handled the grand jury indictment of Stone, said it is a problem that cases sometimes drag on for six months or more without resolution, and it needs to be fixed, particularly since the jail is overcrowded.

“You only have so many beds in that jail,” Damerville said. “And when that bed is being taken up, what happens? That means somebody else who probably should be held in jail, the fact of the matter is he may not be held in jail because there’s no room in the jail.”

The severely overcrowded conditions at HCCC are forcing judges to make tough choices about whether arrestees should be sent there or released, he said.

In fact, Big Island Administrative Judge Robert Kim said earlier this year that “I encourage all judges to be judicious” in who is sent to the Hilo jail because of what he described as atrocious conditions there.

Carrie Ann Shirota, policy director of the ACLU of Hawaii, raised an entirely different set of concerns. She pointed out that Hawaii Rules of Penal Procedure officially require that criminal trials begin within six months of the date that someone is arrested or charged.

Henrietta Stone, 65, has now been held in the Hilo jail for six years without a trial.
Henrietta Stone, 65, has been held for six years without a trial. (HCCC)

Exceptions to that rule are allowed in many or most cases, including when the court must determine if a defendant is mentally fit to assist in their own defense, or can be held legally responsible for their actions because of mental illness.

But the basic right to a speedy trial remains, and that right exists “to prevent oppressive pretrial incarceration,” she said. The public also has an interest in the timely resolution of cases and seeing justice done, Shirota said.

The ACLU of Hawaii recommended that the Judiciary and the Hawaii Criminal Justice Research Institute analyze data on the length of time that is required for criminal cases to proceed to trial, she said.

“Are we experiencing speedy trail fairness — or lack of fairness issues — throughout all circuits?” Shirota asked. “What are the reasons for it, and what strategies are being employed to address that?”

“It is contributing to severe overcrowding in our jails,” she said.

Another issue is that jails are designed for relatively short-term stays for pretrial prisoners and probationers.

“If a person is deemed unfit to proceed to trial, jail is not a safe, healthy or humane environment,” Shirota said, adding that makes it critically important that mental examinations are completed promptly.

Stone was indicted on a charge of second-degree murder in 2017 in the death of her granddaughter Shaelynn Lehano-Stone, who lived with her grandmother.

Shaelynn was found not breathing with no pulse in Stone’s Hilo apartment on June 28, 2016, and an autopsy determined she died of starvation. Stone was indicted on a murder charge the following year along with Shaelynn’s mother and father, Tiffany Stone and Kevin Lehano.

Tiffany Stone and Lehano later pleaded no contest to manslaughter charges, and were each sentenced to 10-year terms of probation in 2021. Both were released from jail later that year.

The deputy prosecutor in Tiffany Stone’s case filed a pre-sentence recommendation that declared that Shaelynn was “horribly neglected and abused,” and her family did not seek help even when it was obvious she was terribly ill and starving.

The report also disclosed that other occupants of the apartment were allowed to eat, but the three refrigerators in the home had been wired with audible alarms that were used to prevent Shaelynn from opening them to get food. She weighed 45 pounds when she died, according to the report.

The court set Henrietta Stone’s bail at $100,000 shortly after she was first arrested six years ago.

Questions about Stone’s mental health were publicly aired from almost the very beginning of the case. One condition of her bail was that she obtain mental health assessment and treatment.

Nakamoto first suspended the proceedings to allow for a mental exam by three court-appointed experts on Nov. 29, 2017, and Oshiro has asked for delays in the case more than two dozen times since then.

The reasons for the delays include missing or delayed reports, difficulties in obtaining records related to the case, and the need to have the mental health experts that evaluated Stone update their reports with new information, according to court minutes for the case.

The experts tasked with evaluating Stone’s mental health have submitted at least eight reports on that subject, which have all been sealed by the court. However, the court minutes show that at least one expert found Stone was fit to proceed with the case, while another declared she was not.

Nakamoto never actually ruled on whether Stone was fit to stand trial or was legally responsible for her actions in the case, according to the court minutes.

Hale Nani prison razor wire located on Hawaii island. Womens area.
Staff open a gate at Hale Nani in the women’s area of the Hawaii Community Correctional Center in Hilo. Henrietta Stone has been held at HCCC for six years without a trial as experts try to determine if she is fit to proceed with the case, and whether she is criminally responsible for her actions in the death of her granddaughter. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

Oshiro told the court two years ago that he would approach prosecutors to discuss a plea deal, and on May 19 of this year Oshiro asked Nakamoto for another continuance after explaining to the judge that he had submitted a plea proposal. Stone’s next court hearing is scheduled for Aug. 25.

Retired Circuit Court Judge Michael Town, who is a member of the Hawaii Correctional System Oversight Commission, said that judges and prosecutors in such cases have a duty to ensure the defendants are fit to stand trial.

How long that may take can vary, but “it strikes me that six or seven years is way, way, way too long,” Town said.

Defendants are often sent to Hawaii State Hospital for treatment to make them fit and able to assist in their own defense, Town said. If it proves to be impossible to make the defendant fit, the judge should issue a ruling to that effect, he said.

As for the delay of six years, “Justice delayed is justice denied,” Town said. He said Hawaii County Prosecutor Kelden Waltjen has an obligation to do what is “fair and correct,” and in this case Waltjen “needs to take another look at it, and respond given his role.”

Waltjen said in a written statement that it is the court that ultimately decides whether a continuance is allowed in a case.

In the Stone case, the public record shows the proceedings were suspended to allow for a pending examination to determine fitness to proceed and penal responsibility. The minutes also show there has been “no final disposition” on those issues, Waltjen wrote.

“Unfortunately, unlike (the Oahu jail), given the location and size, HCCC does not have a dedicated mental health module for inmates. As a result, HCCC inmates are not afforded the same resources and accommodations as their Oahu counterparts,” he wrote.

Waltjen said in his statement his office is “committed to seeking justice and promoting public safety on Hawaii Island.”

“We will not jeopardize public safety by agreeing to the release of an individual charged with serious felony offenses simply because they are pending examination for fitness,” he wrote.

John Ali Hoffman has been held in the Hilo jail for seven years.

The Hoffman case is similar to the Stone case because Hoffman has been held in the Hilo jail for seven years without a trial, and there have been dozens of delays while experts examine Hoffman to determine his mental fitness and degree of criminal responsibility.

Hoffman is accused of murdering his wife and two children in 2016, but has claimed he does not remember what happened the night they were killed.

Damerville, the retired deputy prosecutor, said issues surrounding mental fitness are difficult issues for the courts. For one thing, “fitness can come and go,” he said.

In some cases detainees may be medicated and deemed fit to proceed with their cases, but then go off their medications and relapse to the point where they are no longer mentally fit. That can cause delays, and Damerville said judges in that situation may have to order that medication be administered.

He also noted East Hawaii island has had just two Circuit Court judges for the last 40 years, a period that has seen explosive growth, particularly in the Puna district. The dockets for those judges have become unmanageable, and the situation is now “unconscionable,” Damerville said.

Then again, Damerville joked that many in the state bar believe the “C” in Stanton C. Oshiro’s name stands for “Continuance.” Oshiro is the defense lawyer for both Hoffman and Stone.

Damerville said he believes continuances usually benefit defendants, and he described Oshiro as “a very fine lawyer” who accepts some of the most difficult court-appointed criminal cases on the Big Island.

“However, at some point in time it’s incumbent on the court to say ‘Enough of the gamesmanship,'” Damerville said. “I don’t think anybody deserves to spend seven years in the Hilo jail, it’s not conducive to anything.”

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