Judge modifies sentence for ex-cop who murdered wife in ‘02
A new minimum term will be set for a former Hawaii Police Department officer behind bars since his January 2002 arrest for fatally shooting his 42-year-old wife in Waikoloa Village.
Albert Pacheco, now age 66 and housed at Suguaro Correctional Center in Arizona, is awaiting a Nov. 16 appearance before the five-member Hawaii Paroling Authority tasked with again determining the number of years the former Kona detective must serve before becoming eligible for parole.
The hearing was set after a Third Circuit Court judge earlier this year approved a petition for post-conviction relief filed in May 2021 by Honolulu Attorney Myles S. Breiner on behalf of Pacheco and financed in part by his eldest daughter.
Pacheco, after making a plea deal with prosecutors, was sentenced Aug. 16, 2004, by then-Judge Greg Nakamura to consecutive terms of life in prison with a minimum 15 years for second-degree murder and 20 years for carrying or use of a firearm in the commission of a separate felony in the Jan. 4, 2002, shooting death of Cathalene Ann “Cathy” Pacheco, his wife of 19 years.
The Hawaii Paroling Authority in December 2004 set Albert Pacheco’s minimum terms at 30 years for the murder offense and 10 years for the firearms offense. With the court’s sentence running consecutively — one after the other — he would not be eligible for parole until December 2041 at age 85.
However, that date is up in the air after Hilo Circuit Court Judge Peter Kubota agreed with the post-conviction relief petition’s argument that Albert Pacheco was unjustly sentenced to consecutive terms, and modified the court’s 2004 sentence to run the terms concurrently, or at the same time.
According to the petition, the court in 2004 erroneously factored in Albert Pacheco’s police training into the rationale for consecutive sentencing despite there being no evidence in the presentence report to suggest he used “any police tactics, techniques, or training to carry out” the crime other than “unfounded conjecture” in a supplemental memorandum by a probation officer.
“The Court, in its bias against Mr. Pacheco for being a police officer, drew a speculative conclusion about the thought process behind how Mr. Pacheco committed the crime. In violation of Mr. Pacheco’s right to equal protection, the Court used Mr. Pacheco’s status as a law enforcement officer to unduly influence his sentencing,” the petition reads, also noting the court stated during sentencing: “Obviously you used your police training to commit the murder.”
While Albert Pacheco’s attorney at the time, Stanton Oshiro, raised the issue during sentencing, he failed to file a motion to reconsider and an appeal, according to the petition. Based on Oshiro’s “ineffective assistance of counsel,” Breiner successfully requested the court reconsider Albert Pacheco’s sentence and grant an order for concurrent sentencing.
That modification to the sentence under Rule 35 by Kubota triggered the parole board to consider new minimum terms in the case — opening the possibility that Albert Pacheco could become eligible for parole sooner than later. However, the minimum term for the murder charge could be set at 30 years, again, making him ineligible for parole until December 2031.
As of Monday, Albert Pacheco has served 20 years, nine months, and 21 days — well over the 15-year minimum term imposed by the court in 2004 for the murder offense and the full minimum term set for the firearms offense.
Breiner said he and Albert Pacheco are hopeful the board will set the minimum as the amount of time the 66-year-old has already served, setting him on a path to parole after completing work furlough. Breiner added his client has had no write-ups, violations or misconducts during his incarceration.
“We’re hoping the board sees that he’s had a near-perfect record during his confinement,” Breiner said. “He’s been a model inmate while he’s been in custody, and it’s been difficult because he is former law enforcement so he’s had to bear the additional burden of being a possible target for any number of inmates who what to retaliate against someone in law enforcement. We’re hoping that the board takes that into consideration.”
Hawaii County Prosecuting Attorney Kelden Waltjen, who joined the office in 2012 and was elected its chief in 2020, said his office will argue against any reduction to the current 30-year minimum term set in 2004 for the murder offense. He noted that prosecutors in 2004 asked the parole board to set Albert Pacheco’s minimum at 85 years for the murder to be followed by 15 years for the firearms offense.
“Our Office takes domestic violence and homicide seriously and this tragic case bears no exception. Our Office will argue against any further reductions of Pacheco’s minimum term. This was a truly horrific murder — where a husband hunted down his wife and ran her off the road, before shooting her 14 times,” Waltjen said in a statement to West Hawaii Today. “Pacheco is fortunate that he has been given the opportunity to serve a concurrent life term with the possibility of parole and even be eligible for release. Any further reduction of his minimum term would be a miscarriage of justice.”
Breiner, who specializes in post-conviction relief, among other areas of law, said the modification to Albert Pacheco’s sentence was “extremely rare.”
He said he picked up the case because he was intrigued by the court’s 2004 sentence.
“I thought it was excessive and he (Albert Pacheco) deserved to have it reviewed by the court, and I’m happy the court saw the same problems that I had with it: that handing down a consecutive sentence like this was punishment on punishment and that’s not what our system’s about — at least I hope that’s not what the rule of law is about.”
The Department of Public Safety said the quasi-judicial Hawaii Paroling Authority could not comment on pending matters.