CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Tema Tanu Tema, 26, was sentenced yesterday in Circuit Court to five years in prison for the theft of a car with a baby in the back seat.
Kalihi man gets 5 years for theft of car with baby
The court denies the request for an extended term of 10 years' prison
A Kalihi man who stole a car but abandoned it after discovering a baby in the back seat was sentenced to five years in prison, with a mandatory minimum of one year and eight months.
Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto denied the state's request yesterday for an extended term of 10 years but admonished Tema Tanu Tema, 26, for his actions that could have resulted in more serious consequences.
"When you committed the crime, you opened a Pandora's box to other unintended dangers," Sakamoto said. "Any time you commit crimes, you invite this unknown danger to the equation -- either to yourself and other citizens."
Tema had pleaded no contest in September to auto theft, unauthorized entry into a motor vehicle and endangering the welfare of a minor.
He had been initially arrested for suspicion of kidnapping, but that charge was never brought because the evidence indicated that he had no idea a baby was in the back seat when he jumped into the car fronting the Golden Coin Restaurant on Liliha Street on March 29.
It was to be the first of several car thefts this year that involved a child inside the car. In each case the cars was located with the child safe.
In the Tema case, Raymond Corpuz, father of the 4-month old infant, had left his keys inside the car with the engine running. He had been gone no more than five minutes when he saw his car being driven away. The car was located a short distance away with the infant inside unharmed about 20 minutes after he called 911.
Tema apologized to the baby's family yesterday in a brief statement.
Deputy public defender Walter Rodby had opposed the extended term, saying Tema has made more than his fair share of mistakes but is not a monster.
In a taped interview with police shortly after his arrest on April 19, Tema was sobbing and genuinely remorseful as he told detectives he had no idea there was a baby in the car until after he had driven off, Rodby said. "If he had known that, he wouldn't have taken the car."
In a portion of the tape played to the court, Tema could be heard saying, "I saw a baby in the back of the car. ... I said no, I cannot do this. ... I just pulled over."
He parked the car where he thought there would be people passing by and fled on foot. "I was scared already," he said.
Deputy Prosecutor Darrell Wong argued for an extended term, saying Tema is a danger to the public because he was on probation for a criminal property damage conviction at the time he stole the car and admitted to stealing cars to finance his four-year "ice" addiction -- a problem that has never been addressed.
While Tema might not have intended to take the child and did abandon the car once he realized the baby was inside, the consequences could have been more serious had the owner of the car been inside and refused to give up the car, Wong said.
While this case started out as a property crime, "Property crimes are still serious crimes," Wong argued.
Sakamoto said it appeared Tema has been a productive citizen in the past, having held down several jobs over the years only to be taken down by his drug problem.
"It's reassuring that you had a conscience and that conscience led you to take precautions for the infant's safety," Sakamoto said.