DEBRA BARAYUGA / DBARAYUGA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Gisela Souza, in the foreground at right, displayed a picture of her 1-year-old son, Maava, yesterday.
Man who suffocated son is sentenced to 20 years
A man who prosecutors say was under the influence of crystal methamphetamine when he suffocated his year-old son was sentenced yesterday to 20 years in prison, with a mandatory minimum of six years and eight months.
But Gisela Souza, the mother of the infant Maava Souza, says 20 years in prison is not enough for her former boyfriend, Tapelu Levu.
"The years ... they just wouldn't add up to my son's life," she said, wiping away tears. "I wish he could come back. ... He's not."
Circuit Judge Michael Town sentenced Levu under an agreement in which he pleaded guilty in July to a lesser charge of manslaughter in the July 21, 2002, incident. Levu, 37, was initially indicted on a second-degree murder charge, punishable by life in prison with the possibility of parole.
"It's an inexcusable thing -- it's beyond comprehension killing anybody, much less a 1-year-old, much less your child," Town said to Levu.
Town noted Levu had difficulty admitting to what he had done at the time he changed his plea. Levu initially described the incident as an accident, saying he had tossed a blanket on the baby and left the room. He later admitted he had suffocated the infant, but did not say why, other than he had been drinking earlier.
While he could not bring himself to face her, Levu apologized to Souza, who sat in the courtroom wearing a white T-shirt with the words "Justice Served" on the back and the smiling face of her son emblazoned on the front.
"What I did was wrong, and I take full responsibility for my actions," he said. "I wish I could bring my son back. ... I guess it's too late."
Deputy Prosecutor Glenn Kim said the tragedy is just another example of why babies and someone high on "ice" do not mix.
Levu admitted in at least two statements to police detectives that he had been smoking "ice" two to three days in a row, including the day of the killing. Levu also had never really bonded with his son because he did not live with the baby's mother, Kim said.
"So an ice addict, smoking ice, coming down from ice, and a 1-year-old baby doing what 1-year-old babies tend to do -- I think it's an explosive combination and in this case proved to be tragic," Kim said.
The mandatory minimum of six years and eight months imposed by the court was because the victim was less than 8 years old.
But Kim is expected to ask the Hawaii Paroling Authority to order Levu to serve 20 out of the maximum 20 years.
Deputy public defender Jerry Villanueva declined to comment but had earlier called the agreement that allowed his client to plead to a lesser charge and take responsibility "fair and appropriate" under the circumstances.
Levu is serving a five-year prison term for stealing Social Security benefits that belonged to his two dead sons. The 2-month-old and 2-year-old boys were killed along with their mother when the car they were riding in crashed in March 2001. Their mother was allegedly following another car occupied by Levu and Souza. Maava Souza was born the following year.
Levu is also serving concurrent terms for felony drug offenses and assault.