How was Kenneth Wakisaka's conviction vacated? Details explored ahead of Dateline: Secrets Uncovered episode

Kenneth Wakisaka
Kenneth Wakisaka's conviction was vacated in October 2023 (Image via NBC)

Over two decades ago, in 2002, Kenneth Wakisaka, 46, of Ko Olina, was found guilty of second-degree murder in the strangulation death of his 52-year-old wife, Shirlene Wakisaka, which occurred two years before his conviction. He received a life sentence with the potential for parole.

Wakisaka initially told first responders, who were called to their residence twice on April 5, 2000, that his wife consumed a lethal dose of sleeping pills with a beer in an attempt to commit suicide. She died five days later. However, an autopsy revealed that the victim died due to a lack of oxygen, likely caused by strangulation.

Kenneth Wakisaka's conviction was later vacated in October 2003 based on the prosecution's misconduct and the ineffectiveness of his trial attorney.


Dateline: Secrets Uncovered on Oxygen is slated to chronicle Shirlene Wakisaka's decades-old alleged murder case as her family still seeks justice. The all-new episode titled The Vow will air on February 1, 2023, at 8:00 pm ET.

The synopsis states:

"Two tenacious sisters are determined to fulfill a promise to investigate the mystery surrounding their mother's death."

Kenneth Wakisaka's wrongful conviction was vacated not long after he was sentenced to life in prison

In 2003, the Hawaii Supreme Court ordered a new trial for Kenneth Wakisaka after he was found guilty of killing his 52-year-old wife, Shirlene, who, according to medical examiners, died due to a lack of oxygen caused by strangulation. The case was subsequently sent back to the state Circuit Court for a new trial after the high court vacated his conviction for second-degree murder on October 23.

Judges claimed that Wakisaka's conviction was affected by insufficient legal assistance and the withholding of crucial testimony from his wife Shirlene's doctor. The prosecution also made incorrect statements about Wakisaka's decision not to take the witness stand and defend himself.


According to the law, a defendant has the constitutional right to remain silent to avoid implicating himself, and prosecutors are prohibited from commenting on a defendant's refusal to testify.

As a rule, the prosecution cannot comment on the defendant's failure to testify because this infringes on the defendant's right not to be a witness against her- or himself.

According to reports, the high court wrote:

"As a rule, the prosecution cannot comment on the defendant's failure to testify because this infringes on the defendant's right not to be a witness against her- or himself."

The Supreme Court's decision stated that during the initial trial, Circuit Judge Marie Milks wrongfully prevented the victim's doctor, Sharon Lawler, from testifying at the trial. Although the Supreme Court alleged that Lawler "was intimately familiar with Shirlene's emotional problems," Milks argued that Lawler was neither a psychiatrist nor a psychologist.

The judges also criticized Wakisaka's former lawyer Mal Gillin for getting Honolulu police Detective Wayne Cambra to testify with a false belief that Wakisaka strangled his wife to death. Gillin was also criticized for not objecting to statements made by the prosecution on Wakisaka's refusal to take the stand.

More on Kenneth Wakisaka's 2002 trial and conviction that resulted in a life sentence


Two years after Shirlene Wakisaka's death, a jury convicted Kenneth Wakisaka of second-degree murder and gave him a life sentence in prison with the possibility of parole.

Before the official cause of his wife's death was established, multiple witnesses claimed that Wakisaka made unprompted comments, stating that he did not choke her. This was contrary to the testimony of the medical examiners who testified at the trial that Shirlene Wakisaka died of brain damage inflicted by strangulation.

Wakisaka, however, maintained his innocence, alleging that his wife had a history of mental illness and that she overdosed on sleeping pills which she consumed with alcohol in an attempt to commit suicide.

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Edited by Dev Sharma
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