Higher murder charge is dropped


POSTED: Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A circuit judge dismissed a first-degree murder charge against a 17-year-old Ewa Beach boy accused of killing and raping 51-year-old Karen Ertell, who was a witness in a burglary case against him.

Family and friends of Ertell believe the ruling yesterday by Judge Virginia Crandall was based on an unfair technicality.

Prosecutors had charged Vernon P. Bartley with first-degree murder in addition to second-degree murder because state law says a person commits first-degree murder by intentionally or knowingly causing the death of a person known by the defendant to be a witness in a criminal proceeding.

Bartley, who was then 15, allegedly burglarized Ertell's home and was scheduled for trial in Family Court for the burglary. Ertell, his neighbor, was subpoenaed as a witness and was killed the next morning—May 25, 2007.

;[Preview]  Suspected Ewa Beach Murderer May Get A Break

Vernon Bartley, accused of murdering his neighbor, now has a chance for parole if he's convicted.

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But Crandall ruled in favor of Bartley, whose lawyer, Jeffrey Hawk, had argued that the burglary case was a Family Court proceeding, not a criminal proceeding.

Bartley will be tried for second-degree murder, along with second-degree sexual assault and other charges. If convicted of second-degree murder, he will face a life sentence with the possibility of parole. Had he been convicted of first-degree murder, he could have gotten a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

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Malanie McLellan, Ertell's former foster daughter, called the ruling awful and disgusting but not surprising based on how Hawaii law “;lets someone off on a technicality that really makes no sense and isn't designed to protect the people of Hawaii.”;

If he gets a life sentence, “;he is going to serve 15 years, and he'll be out when he's 32,”; she predicted.

“;It was first-degree murder,”; she said. “;It was a planned, premeditated murder of a witness. We're one of the few states where first-degree murder is reserved for judges, witnesses and police officers.”;

McLellan also criticized the state's laws for what she believes is leniency for juveniles.

Crandall also ruled Bartley's confession to police would be admissible at trial.

First Deputy Prosecutor Douglas Chin said, “;Our position has always been that a witness to a crime is a witness no matter whether it was committed by a juvenile or an adult.”;

Ertell's niece Holly Wisecup of Seattle said, “;I think it's a technicality. I think it's unfair. I don't think it's right. While the judge ruled it was second degree, the judge ruled they will keep the confession.

“;Even if the sentence isn't as great as we would have hoped, the chances for the conviction are still good.”;