Richard Taylor Jr. was found dead in a single-man cell, according to Arizona authorities.

A Big Island man who spent nearly 28 years in prison for the robbery of a downtown Hilo Pizza Hut in 1995 has died at the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona.

Richard Keokeo Taylor Jr., 51, was found dead in a one-man cell at the Arizona prison on Oct. 22, according to the Eloy Police Department.

An autopsy has been scheduled to determine the cause of death.

A jury found Taylor guilty of seven felonies including four counts of first-degree robbery in the Dec. 30, 1995 stickup of the restaurant. He was sentenced to two consecutive life terms with the possibility of parole plus an additional 30 years that were to be served after the life sentences.

Taylor denied during his trial that he was involved in the holdup, but Christopher Wilmer Jr. testified at Taylor’s trial in 1997 that he and Taylor had robbed the restaurant.

Taylor was sentenced to a third life term later in 1997 for charges in an unrelated knifepoint robbery of a tourist in Onomea.

Wilmer was later charged with murder in the fatal stabbing of 73-year-old Hilo resident Gordon Granger at Granger’s home in 1997, but the judge in that case declared a mistrial because of “inexcusable” misconduct by a deputy county prosecutor.

The state Supreme Court then ruled in 2001 that Wilmer could not be tried again for the murder. Wilmer was sentenced to eight years in prison for the restaurant robbery and 20 years for two other unrelated robberies and possession of prison contraband. He was eventually released on parole.

Taylor is the 17th Hawaii state prisoner to die so far this year. The state Department of Public Safety declined to release any information about the case pending notification of Taylor’s next of kin.

Hawaii is currently holding 877 prisoners at the privately run Saguaro facility under a contract with CoreCivic because there is no room for them in Hawaii prisons. The state spent nearly $33 million to hold inmates out of state last year, but officials say it is cheaper to house prisoners at Saguaro than in Hawaii facilities.

Support Civil Beat during the season of giving.

As a small nonprofit newsroom, our mission is powered by readers like you. But did you know that less than 1% of readers donate to Civil Beat?

Give today and support local journalism that helps to inform, empower and connect.

About the Author