Woman sentenced in child assault


POSTED: Saturday, February 07, 2009

HILO » When Big Island paramedics responded to a 911 call on Feb. 7, 2005, they found an unconscious 10-year-old girl with much of her upper lip missing, objects that looked like maggots in a wound on her head, and the stink of rotting flesh fouling the air.

; Police said Hyacinth Poouahi, who had been entrusted with the girl's care for a little more than three months, had abused the girl and had allowed abuse by Poouahi's common-law husband and her son.

Following a plea agreement, Circuit Judge Glen Hara sentenced Poouahi yesterday to 20 years in prison for endangering the welfare of a minor, assault, unlawful imprisonment and terroristic threatening, plus $853,000 in restitution.

By entering agreement, Poouahi, 41, avoided trial on a charge of attempted murder.

The victim, now 14, tried to make a statement to Judge Hara but spoke only two sentences which could not be understood because of her injuries.

She is deaf in both ears and blind in one eye. He upper lip still shows the damage seen by the 911 paramedics. She has difficulty walking.

After the 911 call in 2005, she spent six weeks in a coma. Deputy prosecutor Rick Damerville said the state spent $1.4 million saving her life.

“;She was damaged from head to toe,”; her guardian Stephanie St. John told Hara.

Damerville said the girl was tortured.

“;Some of it was disgusting,”; he said, such as being forced to eat cockroaches.

Defense attorney Keith Shigetomi agreed the girl was severely abused, but said Poouahi's fault lay in passively letting it happen while others inflicted the abuse.

The girl's mother spoke directly to Poouahi. “;I trusted you with her. I don't understand how you can do this to a living person.”;

The mother left the girl in Poouahi's care because the girl was showing behavioral problems that the mother could not handle, she said.

She went to several state agencies seeking help but got none. “;I was told I made too much money,”; she told Hara.

In Poouahi's defense, Shigetomi said a psychologist diagnosed Poouahi with a nonspecific “;psychotic disorder”; in addition to bordering on being mentally retarded.

Reading from a paper, Poouahi told the judge, “;I'm a very loving, caring and compassionate mother.”; Speaking directly to the girl, she said, “;I'm sorry for the things you've endured.”;

She did not call for medical help until the injuries were severe because she was afraid she would lose her own children, she said. Damerville said she did not call 911 until her husband's father threatened to make the call himself.

Shigetomi told Hara it was unfair that all the blame is being placed on Poouahi, since others such as school officials did nothing to help.

Damerville agreed that schoolchildren were talking about abuse of the girl for weeks. “;The things the children were saying, they (adults) couldn't believe them. We need to believe our children,”; he said.