Sale of Hawaiian skull draws federal charge

Honolulu Advertiser
Thursday, September 9, 2004

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

A California man has been charged with violating federal law by offering to sell a 200-year-old Hawaiian skull on eBay.

Hawai'i advocates for the protection of burial sites said they're hopeful the case can be closed quickly so the skull can be returned for reburial on Maui.

Jerry David Hasson, a 55-year-old Huntington Beach resident, was charged yesterday by the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles with violating the federal Archaeological Resources Protection Act. In February, he attempted to sell the skull, advertising it on eBay as a "200-year-old warrior" taken from the Ka'anapali area in 1969, the U.S. attorney's office said.

Hasson did not respond to attempts by The Advertiser to reach him by phone and e-mail.

Hasson was not arrested and will receive a summons to appear in court in about three weeks, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office. The maximum punishment if convicted is five years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

Hasson is not yet represented by an attorney, Mrozek said.

According to an affidavit filed by federal agent John Fryer, the skull was examined by an anthropologist whose expertise is in identifying human remains. That expert identified the skull to be that of a woman and consistent in appearance with other specimens known to be more than 200 years old. (The gender of the skull means it could not have belonged to a Hawaiian warrior.)

Fryer is an investigator for the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs in Albuquerque, N.M., where the skull is being kept in an evidence room pending court hearings. Fryer was unavailable for comment yesterday.

However, Mrozek said the overwhelming majority of such cases are settled before trial.

Mrozek added that even if the case is settled, the precise procedure for returning the remains for reburial is still unclear. However, the parties to be involved in the discussion will include state officials as well as Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai'i Nei, a nonprofit organization active in the protection of native burials here.

Hui Malama assisted in investigating the case, Mrozek said.

Eddie Halealoha Ayau, a member of Hui Malama, said Fryer has consulted with him about how the remains should be stored appropriately. Fryer was told that the skull should be kept away from light and enclosed in dark cloth.

Ayau confirmed that he spoke with Hasson after eBay officials were alerted to the auction and removed it from the Web site. Ayau said he warned Hasson that the sale is a federal offense and tried to persuade him to return the skull to Hawai'i.

"He said this was his, he found it," Ayau said. "I told him I disagreed, you can't own human remains. ... I said, 'The right thing to do is return it. This is somebody's grandparent, somebody's child.' He said he'd think about it."

According to the affidavit, Fryer was assigned to the case and contacted Hasson by e-mail asking about the availability of the skull. Hasson then provided his phone number for further negotiations, the affidavit said.

He later told Fryer by phone that his attorney had advised him to offer the skull as a "gift" to accompany a separate purchase, according to the affidavit.

"Specifically, if someone offered more than $2,000 for one of his other auction items, Hasson would donate the skull to that buyer as a 'gift,' " Fryer said in the affidavit.

Working through an intermediary, Fryer then purchased a collector's edition comic book "fanzine" for $2,500 and provided a New Mexico address for sending the skull via Federal Express. The skull, enclosed in cardboard boxes, arrived Feb. 18, Fryer said. A "certificate of authenticity" arrived by mail 10 days later, he said.

Fryer said in the affidavit that he sent the skull to the University of Hawai'i, where it was examined by anthropologist Michael Pietrusewsky. Pietrusewsky confirmed the general age of the skull but concluded that it was the skull of a female, about 50 years old at the time of death.

According to the affidavit, Hasson said he found the skull while employed as a lifeguard at the Ka'anapali Beach Hotel, where he said the cast and crew of the movie "The Hawaiians" stayed during filming.

Hasson said he had a small part in the film and met Frazier Heston, the son of actor Charleton Heston, according to the affidavit. He said the younger Heston accompanied him when he visited the burial site one night, but Heston later told investigators that he doesn't know Hasson, according to the affidavit.

Fryer said when he asked whether there were artifacts with the skull, Hasson told him "right next to this skeleton, there were some warrior artifacts ... like hatchets and stuff like that, but I was afraid to take those things. I left those in the sand. ... All I know is, I slowly uncovered the entire skeleton," according to the affidavit.

"I actually found some part of a leg first and as I would dig deeper and deeper, I would uncover the thigh and then the pelvic bone and ultimately the ribs, and eventually I found the skull."

Reach Vicki Viotti at or 525-8053.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 The Honolulu Advertiser, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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