Jonathan Okamura: Past Court Cases Helped Perpetuate Racial Injustice In Hawaii - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Jonathan Y. Okamura

Jonathan Okamura is professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii Manoa, where he worked for most of his 35-year academic career, 20 years of which were with the Department of Ethnic Studies. He continues to research, write and lecture on problems and issues concerning race and racism. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat’s views. You can reach him by email at

The 1929 execution of a Japanese American who confessed to killing a 10-year-old white boy occurred despite evidence that the suspect should have been deemed legally insane.

For many decades, islanders of color have been killed or punished unjustly.

Monday marks the 95th anniversary of the killing in 1928 of 10-year-old Punahou student Gill Jamieson by Yutaka “Myles” Fukunaga, a 19-year-old, second-generation Japanese American, in a horrific crime that shocked the territory.

While Fukunaga willingly admitted bludgeoning Gill to death, he was very likely legally insane and thus should not have been hanged for what he did. The case is one of the most egregious examples of racial injustice in island history after the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and was followed by several others discussed below.

In my book, “Raced to Death: Injustice and Revenge in the Fukunaga Case,” I argue that Fukunaga was quickly rushed or raced to his death sentence because whites wanted immediate revenge for the brutal killing of one of their own.

Fukunaga was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to death within three weeks of his crime. Legal appeals of his conviction went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case. But his execution was delayed until November the following year.

Another meaning of race in the title of my book is that Fukunaga was, in the language of that time, of the Japanese “race,” which the prosecution emphasized at his trial. By far the largest ethnic group in Hawaii, most of whom were American citizens, they were seen as the greatest threat to continued haole political and economic domination of the islands.

Fukunaga’s killing of Gill was viewed by haoles as a direct challenge of their subordination of Japanese. They hence sought his accelerated hanging to send a clear message to the Japanese community of the dire consequences of upsetting the racial order.

Before discussing some of the more blatant racial injustices in the Fukunaga case, I briefly describe why Gill Jamieson became his intended victim, which indicates his mental instability. Gill’s father Frederick was a vice president of the Hawaiian Trust Co., which managed the leasing of the house in downtown Honolulu the Fukunaga family was renting.

The author argues in “Raced to Death: Injustice and Revenge in the Fukunaga Case” that the death sentence was imposed quickly because whites wanted revenge for the killing of one of their own. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

In May 1928, a rent collector from Hawaiian Trust went to the Fukunaga home to collect $20 in overdue rent. After his capture, Fukunaga bitterly told the police that the rent collector spoke harshly to his mother and threatened his family with eviction.

As a result, Fukunaga said he developed a “hatred” for the company and began to plan his revenge. Gill became his victim as a proxy for his father’s company.

On Sept. 18, Fukunaga kidnapped Gill from Punahou School and took him to Waikiki in a taxi. He led him to the rear of the Seaside Hotel, now the site of the International Market Place, and struck Gill repeatedly on his head with a metal chisel.

Fukunaga was caught four days later after spending some of the $4,000 in a ransom payment he had collected from Frederick Jamieson the night of the killing. He readily provided damning evidence of his culpability to the police because, as he told them, he wanted to die, having failed in two suicide attempts earlier in the year.

As for the racial injustices in the Fukunaga case, many of them were intended to have him hanged as quickly as possible. 

Honolulu_Star_Bulletin_Wed__Sep_19__1928_ Gill Jamieson murder case Jonathan Okamura
Newspaper clipping shows a photo of Gill Jamieson. (Honolulu Star-Bulletin/

Despite suspicions he might be mentally insane because of his suicide attempts and his bizarre ransom note sent to Gill’s father, he was given a 90-minute psychiatric exam instead of the 10-day evaluation required by law. Besides delaying the start of his trial and his expected guilty verdict, a longer exam might have uncovered evidence of his insanity.

His two court-appointed attorneys proposed that the trial begin the week following their appointment, giving them just six days to prepare his defense. In the afternoon of the first day of the two-day trial, they stipulated that Fukunaga killed Gill but offered no exculpatory defense.

In fact, Fukunaga’s attorneys called no witnesses on his behalf, such as his parents and former teachers and employers.

Fukunaga’s defense hence lasted just 19 minutes, and the jury began deliberations on the second day of the trial and returned a guilty verdict in less than two hours.

While not necessarily intended to speed up the trial, other damaging racial injustices in the case contributed to Fukunaga’s conviction. In his instructions to the jury, the presiding judge failed to inform them that, according to the 1925 Hawaii Insanity Act, a person could be considered legally insane if they were subject to a compelling force they could not withstand.

In a detailed analysis of Fukunaga’s insanity, a University of Hawaii philosophy professor, Lockwood Myrick Jr., argued that he was legally insane because he was compelled to kill Gill as a result of his desire for revenge against the Hawaiian Trust Co. This compulsion developed from the contentious encounter with their rent collector. 

Unfortunately, Myrick’s study was completed a month after Fukunaga’s conviction and so was not presented at his trial. Also after the trial, a Navy psychiatrist at Pearl Harbor, Dr. Joseph Thompson, submitted an affidavit that maintained Fukunaga was mentally insane. However, he failed to state that Fukunaga was legally insane, a primary criterion of which was the inability to differentiate between right and wrong.

The jury that convicted Fukunaga was highly biased against him, as evident from the voir dire jury selection process. When questioned directly, most potential jurors said they had formed an opinion about Fukunaga’s guilt or innocence, but claimed they could still give him a fair trial.

Given the massive publicity of the case, including Fukunaga’s confession, it is extremely unlikely that their opinion was that he was innocent, although he was legally entitled to that presumption.

Thus, on Oct. 8, Fukunaga was sentenced to be hanged two weeks later. Fred Makino, publisher of the Hawaii Hochi Japanese newspaper, soon hired Robert Murakami as Fukunaga’s new attorney. Makino argued that Fukunaga’s guilty verdict and death sentence showed Hawaii had “two kinds of justice” — one for haoles and another for Japanese and other non-whites.

Murakami filed a motion for a new trial for Fukunaga, which temporarily saved him from the gallows, but subsequent appeals of his conviction were all denied. He was hanged on Nov. 19, 1929 at Oahu Prison and buried that day in a Japanese cemetery in Moiliili.

Racial injustice certainly occurred in Hawaii both before and after the Fukunaga case, especially against young Native Hawaiian men.

Joseph Kahahawai was buried in a Kalihi cemetery after he was shot and killed by a white Navy officer in the 1930s. The case came to define local identity in Hawaii. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2016)

Arguably the worst example of racial injustice remains the Massie-Kahahawai case of 1931-32 in which Joe Kahahawai, a Native Hawaiian falsely accused of raping Thalia Massie, a white woman, was killed by her relatives. The four convicted killers, including Navy Lt. Thomas Massie, had their 10-year sentences at hard labor commuted to one hour by territorial Gov. Lawrence McCully Judd.

I wrote in a previous column about the Majors-Palakiko case in 1948 in which two young Native Hawaiians — John Majors and James Palakiko — were convicted of raping and killing Therese Wilder, a wealthy, elderly widow, and sentenced to be executed.

Racial injustice is evident in their case insofar as they were initially charged with second-degree murder, which did not include an automatic death sentence, because of the lack of evidence of premeditation. But they were eventually prosecuted for first-degree murder after influential haoles complained to the mayor of Honolulu, who replaced the first prosecutor with someone willing to seek the death penalty.

Read this next:

Beth Fukumoto: When Good People Are Driven Out Only Bad People Will Be Left

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About the Author

Jonathan Y. Okamura

Jonathan Okamura is professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii Manoa, where he worked for most of his 35-year academic career, 20 years of which were with the Department of Ethnic Studies. He continues to research, write and lecture on problems and issues concerning race and racism. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat’s views. You can reach him by email at

Latest Comments (0)

Sounds to me like justice was served. But then again, I could be insane. My wife thinks so.

CatManapua · 1 week ago

Fukunaga killed an innocent child. I'm glad they got the crazy off the streets.

Sun_Duck · 1 week ago

Perhaps racism played a role in Fukunaga's case but I don't believe that Mr. Okamura has made a compelling argument that it did. Like today, there was inequal justice back then based on class and wealth. Would the result have been different in this case if the defendant had been a poor white man? I suppose it's possible, but I have my doubts, given the heinous nature of the crime and the weak defense of "irresistible revenge."

Surf_For_Truth · 1 week ago

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