By Damian Lyman
As the sun set on Oct. 27, 2010, David Orpin was eating a plate lunch near the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Campus Center. After moving to Hawai‘i from Alaska years ago, he had become something of a campus fixture over the last 18 years. Although homeless, lanky, and unapologetically bearded, it wouldn’t be hard to mistake Orpin for a university professor with his button up shirt and pile of books.
Orpin was talking with a student about UH caretakers’ mismanagement of the campus’ feral cat population while his black and orange cat, Pebbles, traipsed around them lazily, occasionally stopping to receive a bite of food from the end of Orpin’s plastic fork.
Near the end of their talk, the student lit up a Marlboro cigarette. Orpin asked him to please put it out; he couldn’t stand the smell.
“Smoking laws were passed years ago, and not one person has been reprimanded for smoking near buildings,” Orpin said. Later that night, Orpin would commit a crime that would end one man’s life, and irreparably change the path of his.
A little more than a year later, on Nov. 14, Orpin again was on campus at Mānoa. He stood, catless, on the balcony area of the second floor of Hemenway Hall looking out at the sun setting.
“Someone informed me after I had got out that someone had taken Pebbles home from campus, which is the wrong thing to do. She was dying, and why take her home? She wasn’t in any danger here, and it was a known place for her. There’s a comfort to dying in familiar circumstances. That’s one of the worst things about today’s society; you go to the hospital to die. If you know you’re going to die, you’re much better off dying at home,” Orpin said.
After Orpin had spent more than three months in Oahu Community Correctional Center following his arrest, Orpin’s brother, a mainland business owner, sent Gaye Chan, the chair of the UH Mānoa Art Department and friend of Orpin’s, the $100,000 needed for bail. Since then, Orpin has been spotted around campus doing what he’s done for the past 18 years – reading. His usual haunt is a corner cubicle in the second floor of Sinclair Library, next to the copy machine. Since he’s neither student nor faculty and can’t borrow books, he takes what he needs through copies.
Upon news of the murder last year, many UH faculty members who know him were shocked that Orpin was involved. “(Orpin is) very well-spoken, articulate, very gentle,” said facility manager Lynn Maiakawa in an interview with KHON in November. “A good part of the community, very positive in the building, would have never attributed anything like this to him.”
The incident, which occurred at Saint Pius X, a Mānoa Catholic Church that Orpin and other homeless used as sleeping quarters, involved another homeless male, Arthur Martinez, 70. According to court records, Martinez harassed Orpin at about midnight on Oct. 25, and when Martinez did so again the next night, Orpin hit him. The cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head, according to the medical examiner.
After the encounter, Orpin walked over 10 miles to the Alapai Police Station on South Beretania. At the security gate he requested a glass of water and turned himself in, saying that he “might have to be arrested for murder,” according to a police affidavit. He told police the location of altercation with Martinez. At 2:35 a.m. on Oct. 27, Orpin was charged with second degree murder after it was confirmed that Martinez was dead.
Orpin faces harsher charges because of a Hawaii law meant to protect the elderly from becoming targets of violence. “I wasn’t targeting this guy at all,” Orpin said. “He was targeting me.”
Orpin’s trial has been postponed because of various changes of legal counsel. Unsatisfied with his original public defender, he opted for the counsel of attorneys Thomas Otake and Alan Kaneshiro, but has since withdrawn them from the case, causing further delays. The drawn out year-long trial process has left Orpin indifferent to the verdict, and he intends to enter a plea of no contest when he goes to trial.
“I’m 60 years old; I don’t have anything left in me. I know if I took it to trial, I would only be able to do a half-assed defense,” Orpin said of his decision to not fight the charges. His reason for not attempting a trial is the same reason for his unkempt, overgrown black and white facial hair. He displays an absolute unwillingness to pander to others, to have people see in him what they want to see.
“I won’t talk about (the murder.) I won’t. A jury would want it to be this pretty, clean-cut thing. ‘Oh, he did it because it was self-defense and he had to.’ Things hinge upon me being able to present the case correctly. And since I’m not a liar…” his voice trailed off for a moment and came back matter-of-factly: “There was an awful lot of ugliness involved in this.”
“When people lie, it screws things up badly. No matter what good they are otherwise, if you’re a liar you’re a worthless son of a bitch. You cannot know the value of the truth.”
Orpin noticed a faculty member waiting for an elevator at the second floor of Hemenway and thanked her for some pumpkin squares she had made earlier.
“No problem, thank you for the book, I’ll read it,” she said lightly, referring to a copy of Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat he had given her earlier. Then her affect changed.
“You still haven’t changed your mind about your decision?” she asked of his decision to enter a plea of no contest.
“No, I haven’t.”
“Please, reconsider,” she said, and got into the elevator.
Although his public defender wanted Orpin to take tests to determine his mental state, it’s apparent that Orpin is not only “not insane,” but learned. Orpin has staunch opinions on everything from the 1978 Iranian hostage situation (“I don’t agree with Carter’s handling of it. I consider an attack of any kind on an American embassy an act of war,”) to the Occupy Wall street protests (“I hate to say it, but unless you’re serious enough to start throwing up barricades and throwing rocks at those riot police and really start dying like those in Egypt, you’re not really serious about wanting to make changes,”) and a working understanding of foreign policy at least as good as a UH political science teacher.
The prospect of jail doesn’t frighten Orpin. He takes solace in a quote from transcendentalist author Henry David Thoreau.
“Thoreau said ‘in times like these, the place for a good man is in jail.’ He was actually pissed off at Emerson for bailing him out because it eviscerated his protest,” Orpin said. “So I really don’t feel all that bad. I don’t feel shame. I do feel strange, maybe that’s a sign that I’m sane,” Orpin said, laughing.
Orpin retains a healthy sense of humor in lieu of his situation. He makes a couple of bad jokes at his former attorney’s expense, and even at his own lifestyle choices. “For 18 years I’ve been known as what’s called a ‘habitué,’” he said of his residency status.
It’s tempting to peg Orpin as a rogue philosopher like Thoreau himself or Arnold’s Gypsy Scholar, but Orpin is averse to pegs. “I’m just full of sound bites,” he said with palpable disdain. “I’m full of sound bites, but my sound bites won’t change things. I have no pretentions.”
Before his arrest last year, Orpin was involved with the group Eating in Public, a movement started by Gaye Chan and Nandita Sharma. Eating in public encourages the growing and sharing of food on public and private property, and has also set up “free stores” in which people leave belongings they no longer use for anyone to take. “We want to show that the commons can still exist right in the middle of the capitalist/state regime. And we can take care of each other while we take care of ourselves,” their website says.
Orpin has also helped maintain the facilities at and around the art department. “I think we all have the obligation to make ourselves useful. We’re not supposed to be parasites, and that’s one of the things I’ve striven to do.” Orpin said. He would also help secure and maintain the grounds at Saint Pius X. “I would go around closing all the doors, turning off lights and locking up. But now, with this label, fuck it. Things have changed.”
The label that Orpin will be given after he pleads no contest is one of the few things that do upset him about the ordeal. “I will have this tag, murderer, attached to me for the rest of my life. Instead of just being a killer. I readily cop to one, but the other… I have trouble with.”
Orpin’s trial has been delayed further due to the unavailability of one of the state’s witnesses. Currently, he’s is in the process of giving away the last of his possessions. Today he gave away two books, Emotional Intelligence, and Essential Reading for the College Writer. He gave away a UH Manoa Library copy card with one dollar left on it. Just as he leads his life out here, he intends to be useful in jail. He wants to help other inmates, if he can.
“I’ll write letters, edit stuff for them, try to explain stuff. I’ll be a tutor. A resource,” Orpin said.
“I’ll be treated better in there than I’ve been treated here,” Orpin said, taking a sip of water from a broken coffee mug. “And I’ll get to have my little revenge by costing the government $200 a day.”