Squatter gets 40 years for slaying, break-ins

Aug. 31—Ezequiel Zayas, who gained national notoriety for secretly living inside a Navy family's home on Oahu and planning to perform surgery on them and later killing a 62-year-old fellow inmate while awaiting trial, was sentenced Wednesday to 40 years in prison.

Ezequiel Zayas, who gained national notoriety for secretly living inside a Navy family's home on Oahu and planning to perform surgery on them and later killing a 62-year-old fellow inmate while awaiting trial, was sentenced Wednesday to 40 years in prison.

Oahu Circuit Court Judge Rowena Somerville sentenced the 30-year-old Zayas to prison terms to be served consecutively, not concurrently, which is often the case, for four separate crimes.

The sentence fell on the third anniversary of the unprovoked fatal attack on Vance Grace, who was punched in the head multiple times and stomped by Zayas.

Zayas' attorney, Nelson Goo, negotiated a plea deal that dropped a second-­degree murder charge to manslaughter, and Zayas was sentenced to 20 years in prison, rather than life, for the 2020 killing of Grace in the Oahu Community Correctional Center cell they shared.

The victim's brother, Abraham Grace, said, "You go in jail to do your time. You don't go to jail thinking you're going to die."

He said his brother had finished a sentence in Arizona and was living with him for a year and a half when he got the call that he had an outstanding contraband charge against him, which the family said he simply took the blame for.

Abraham Grace said he told Zayas in court : "I forgive him for killing my brother. ... I didn't want to carry this around for the rest of my life."

Deputy Attorney General Adrian Dhakhwa, who handled the manslaughter prosecution, said that had the state gone forward with the murder prosecution, there was a chance Zayas, who has a history of mental health issues and drug use, could have ended up in the Hawaii State Hospital rather than prison.

"From our position, prison is a more appropriate place (for Zayas ) than the state hospital, " he said.

Zayas received the maximum sentence he could have gotten, Dhakhwa said.

Zayas' first-degree burglary charge stemmed from living inside the home of James and Brittany Campbell in 2019. The couple's true-crime story was featured on Lifetime TV's "Phrogging : Hider in My House, " which aired July 18, 2022.

When they returned from a family emergency on the mainland Sept. 20, 2019, Zayas confronted them at their front door, wearing their clothes and refusing to let them in.

James Campbell grabbed a hammer and threatened him. Their two sons, then ages 9 and 12, were in the car.

Police were called and Zayas was arrested, but was placed on supervised release even though he was homeless.

The state wrote in a sentencing memorandum that "Defendant's urine, semen and excrement were also found in their house ; Defendant accessed their laptop and wrote about sexually assaulting children, Satan, and mental illness."

The Campbells now live on the mainland, and told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Wednesday that they both are still recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder due to the event at their home in Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in privatized Navy housing owned by Ohana Military Communities LLC.

(They declined to disclose what state they live in because an unknown person was also in the house with Zayas.)

"I ended up being retired from the Navy because of my PTSD, " James Campbell said. "The whole thing's impacted our family in pretty big ways. ... I don't know about being made whole. We still have some work to do. It was more than just a burglary."

The Campbells said the subsequent murder of Vance Grace "stirred up a ton of emotion " and made them realize Zayas was as dangerous as they had suspected.

"What if we had come home at night ?" Brittany Campbell said. "He had knives laid out for us in our bedroom " and was planning to perform surgery on them, and "concocted medication meant for us."

James Campbell said : "He got the max for all counts so I think that's great. He did some horrible things and affected a lot of people. This is kind of the best case for what it was."

Zayas was also sentenced to five years for second-­degree burglary for breaking into a Buddhist study center in the University area, after his release following the Campbell burglary.

He also got five years for second-degree assault. At the State Hospital awaiting a mental fitness exam, he became combative during a class, and while being subdued, squeezed the genitals of a teacher and bit him in the stomach.

Dhakhwa said : "We are grateful that Judge Somerville agreed that Zayas deserves the maximum sentence. Each of his victims deserve their own measure of justice. Today's sentence reflects that and protects the public for a significant period of time."

Grace's family says the 62-year-old Nanakuli man didn't have to die. Nelson Coburn said his father was placed in an OCCC cell with Zayas and two other inmates because they were suspected of having COVID-19, despite Zayas displaying mental health issues, and should have been kept in a separate cell.

Also, the cell door lock was not working properly, and guards ended up calling a locksmith while Grace was left dying on the cell floor, the family said.

Coburn filed suit in 2022 against the state Department of Public Safety.