Kawaihae man charged with Kona musician’s murder
A Kawaihae man already in jail awaiting trial for other crimes was charged Thursday with second-degree murder in the death of Kona musician Robert Keawe Lopaka Ryder.
A grand jury that convened in Kona Monday indicted Martin Frank Booth, 55, on the charge, a Class A felony that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years to life imprisonment. According to the grand jury indictment, prosecutors say Booth killed Ryder between Nov. 30 and Dec. 17.
Ryder’s family reported him missing Jan. 17. They had not heard from him since Thanksgiving, Hawaii Police said in a news release issued Thursday morning. An Area II police detective on Thursday declined to provide additional details about the allegations. Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Sheri Lawson said she could not disclose additional information about the crime, including what kind of weapon was used or how Booth and Ryder knew each other.
Police located Ryder’s decomposing body in a lava field in South Kohala in March. He was found in an area between Puako Beach Drive and Queen Kaahumanu Highway.
Other media outlets said police in March reported being led to the body by a person who told them he had been coerced by another individual to “corner” Ryder, and that the alleged accomplice said he saw that individual shoot Ryder and that he assisted the alleged shooter in disposing of the body.
In a March autopsy, the medical examiner determined that the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head and that the manner of death was homicide, police said.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Sheri Lawson successfully petitioned for Monday’s grand jury indictment to be kept under seal until Booth was arrested and charged. Lawson, in a brief filed with the 3rd Circuit Court, said she received reports on Monday that witnesses in the case had received death threats. Witnesses had expressed concerns about their safety prior to the grand jury meeting, Lawson wrote.
Booth is facing charges in at least three other cases already filed with the Circuit Court. In those cases, he faces a long slate of drug charges, including one Class A felony related to methamphetamine, as well as several Class A and Class B felony firearms charges. Booth was also charged with bail jumping, for failing to follow up with bail conditions after being released pending the resolution of a second-degree assault charge.
Third Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Strance revoked Booth’s bail in April. During a May hearing, attorneys noted three doctors concluded Booth is fit to stand trial.
Booth allegedly told police officers who came to arrest him earlier this year that he carried guns with him in hopes of an altercation with police. Booth said he would not shoot the officers, one officer testified, but would shoot in the air so police would shoot him.
During an April hearing another officer testified Booth admitted during an interview to selling methamphetamine, but said that drug found in his home was not something he was selling because he did not conduct the sales at the home. Several people came to Booth’s house while police were executing a search warrant there. Those people told other officers they had come to purchase drugs.
Booth had previously been convicted of several federal drug distribution and conspiracy charges, as well as burglary and theft in Washington and Alaska, an investigator from the Prosecuting Attorney’s office said.