HAWAII (CN) - One year after drug dealer Martin Frank Booth was convicted of murdering Robert Keawe "Lopaka" Ryder, 37, Ryder's mother claims his death was the result of retaliation for being a confidential informant - ultimately the fault of police for not protecting that confidentiality.
Ryder's mother Debra and her sons Buddy and Wailau Ryder filed a wrongful death suit this past month against Booth, Hawaii County and its police department in the Third Circuit Court of Hawaii.
Lopaka Ryder, as he was known locally on his home island of Hawaii, was a popular traveling musician who played his ukulele up and down the coast. His remains were found in a vacant lot two months after his family reported him missing.
Booth pleaded guilty to Ryder's murder after an accomplice led police to the decomposing body. The man told police that he was coerced into helping Booth corner Ryder and then into helping dispose of the body.
According to a police affidavit, Booth said he killed Ryder because he assaulted a woman who lived in a trailer along with her boyfriend on Booth's property. Booth admitted to the woman that he had shot and killed Ryder because "of what he had done to her," according to the affidavit.
Despite Booth's confession and stated motive, Ryder's mother believes Booth had a much different reason for killing her son: Ryder was a confidential informant for the vice division of the Hawaii County Police Department. He was assisting on cases of possession and sale of illegal drugs including crimes involving Booth, the complaint states.
In his role as an informant Ryder served for an unknown period of time until his death, according to the suit. It also states that police disclosed his identity either directly or indirectly to persons being investigated or to other police officers not directly involved in Ryder's operations, thus creating a greater risk of discovery.
As a direct result of "intentional or grossly negligent acts of disclosure," Booth and others involved in drug trafficking and firearms murdered Ryder, the family says in the complaint.
They also claim that when they sought information from the police about Ryder's death, police personnel "hid the nature and circumstances of [Ryder's] demise" in a "fraudulent attempt to cover up defendants' complicity or responsibility," according to complaint.
Ryder's family believes police were aware of his vulnerability as an informant yet failed to take precautions to protect him.
"[Police] knew or should have known that Ryder was a likely victim of deadly assault" and yet "failed to properly monitor the situation," the complaint says.
Ryder's family also says this "failure to supervise and train was a pattern and practice within the Hawaii County Police Department carried out by ranking officers."
Police representatives did not return email requests for comment on the lawsuit.
Despite the killer's stated motive at trial, the family's attorney William Harrison said by email, "We understand the 'public information' disseminated by the state as the motive for the murder. We do not believe that information to be correct."
Regarding what proof is available to support what the family believes is the true motive, "At this time we are not at liberty to comment regarding the basis of our belief," Harrison said. "We are still in the process of investigating all matters concerning the events that led to Lopaka's muder."
Ryder's family seeks punitive damages for his suffering and death and for their own emotional suffering and loss of their family member. As for Booth, he is serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole concurrently with minimum 8-year sentences for three other unrelated crimes.
Booth pleaded guilty to second-degree murder after prosecutors agreed to drop a sentencing measure that would have denied him parole. He apologized to Ryder's family and friends prior to sentencing, according to court records.
"Lopaka was a very talented and loving person. He was a friend of mine. I'm sorry," Booth said. "There's nothing I can do to change that and what I've done, and for that I am sorry and there is no excuse."
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