Open venue hearings on murder cases against juveniles
A Family Court judge will decide later this month whether to transfer a murder case against a 15-year-old* boy to Circuit Court.
HAWAII'S court system goes further than many states in protecting juveniles accused of crimes, but the public is too often left in the dark. A Family Court judge is expected to rule later this month on whether a 15-year-old*
Ewa Beach boy should be tried for murder as an adult or behind closed doors as a juvenile. The state law should be changed to provide, at the least, that such venue hearings in a murder case be open to the public.
Many people were angered a decade ago when a Family Court judge decided that 18-year-old Gabriel Kealoha should be tried as a juvenile for the death a year earlier of off-duty police officer Arthur Miller, who was thrown from an H-1 freeway viaduct. Convicted, Kealoha ended up serving 291 days in the Youth Correctional Facility before being released, according to law, on his 19th birthday.
The Ewa Beach boy is accused of strangling Karen Ertell, 51, owner of a coffee-roasting company, at her Ewa Beach in May and driving away in her car. A judge may order a juvenile at least 14 years old who is charged with murder to stand trial as an adult in Circuit Court.
If convicted in adult court, the boy will be sentenced to the mandatory adult term of life in prison with the possibility of parole. If convicted in Family Court as a juvenile, the boy would be released, like Kealoha, when he reaches 19, and be put on probation for an additional year.
Many of the 40 states where juveniles can be tried as adults, including Hawaii, enacted those laws in the 1990s, reacting to the rape and near-killing of a Central Park jogger. Factors to be considered in nonmurder felonies are the nature of the crimes and previous criminal record, including contact with Family Court.
From the exacerbating information that has surfaced since the slaying, the Family Court judge probably will transfer the boy's case to Circuit Court, unless the boy is found to be mentally ill. His father told the Star-Bulletin that a Family Court counselor had been seeing his son for 1 1/2 years, had been involved in past petty crimes and had been due in court for an unrelated home burglary.
The father also said the counselor did not discourage him from associating with a group of hooligans who robbed stores and burglarized homes. Six days after Ertell's death, two 16-year-old boys allegedly assaulted a witness to the strangling and a 14-year-old boy, breaking the boy's jaw.
If the Family Court judge receives a different set of information, the decision could be a surprise, with no explanation available because of the secrecy of the proceeding.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
» The editorial on Page A8 Tuesday incorrectly said that the Ewa Beach teenager accused of murdering Karen Ertell is 14 years old. He is 15 years old.