Friday, July 15, 2005

Man admits
suffocating infant son

A 37-year-old man who admitted to suffocating his year-old son is facing 20 years in prison, with a mandatory minimum of six years and eight months.

Tapelu Levu, an inmate at Halawa Correctional Facility, pleaded guilty yesterday in Circuit Court to manslaughter in the death of Maava Souza.

Levu was indicted in September on a charge of second-degree murder, which carries penalties of life imprisonment with the possibility of parole.

In court yesterday, Levu initially called the July 21, 2002, incident an accident and said that the child suffocated after Levu threw a blanket over him and left the room.

Deputy Prosecutor Glenn Kim said that had the case gone to trial, the state would have proved that the child was smothered or suffocated and that the medical examiner had ruled that the boy's death was not an accident. Souza died of asphyxia.

Upon questioning by Circuit Judge Michael Town, Levu haltingly responded, "I admit that I went suffocate my son."

Levu did not say what made him do it, but told the court that he had been drinking.

Deputy public defender Jerry Villanueva said afterward that Levu is remorseful. "He's taking responsibility for what he did, and didn't want this to hang over him and his former girlfriend and her family."

Levu will be sentenced Oct. 7. Under a plea agreement, he must serve a minimum of six years and eight months for causing the death of a child under 8. Kim said he will later ask the Hawaii Paroling Authority that Levu serve the entire 20 years.

Levu is currently serving a five-year term after pleading no contest last year to stealing Social Security benefits that belonged to his dead children during a five-month period in 2002. He was ordered to repay the Social Security Administration $9,160.

Two sons, ages 2 months and 2 years, and his wife were killed in March 2001 in a single-car crash near Honolulu Airport.

Police said the couple had been arguing before the crash. Levu's wife and their two young children apparently were in a car following Levu and his girlfriend, Gisela Souza, in another car on Koapaka Street when the wife's car hit a large tree.

Maava Souza was born the following year.

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