trial for vicious
abuse of son
The prosecutor says the childBy Debra Barayuga
suffered permanent brain damage
in one of the 'malicious' assaults
Reubyne Buentipo Jr. suffered from a pattern of abuse that culminated just before Labor Day 1997 when he was "viciously, maliciously and intentionally beaten by his mother," a deputy city prosecutor said.
Kimberly Pada, 29, of Kailua, is accused of second-degree attempted murder for the August 1997 assault of her 4-year-old son in one of the state's most publicized child abuse cases. The jury trial began yesterday before Judge John Lim in Circuit Court.
"This case is about a mother who repeatedly abused and tortured one of her sons to the brink of death," said Deputy Prosecutor Dan Oyasato. Reubyne Jr.'s most severe injuries occurred Aug. 30-31, 1997, when he was beaten unconscious twice and later shaken so violently that it caused the connecting veins in his brain to "shear off," Oyasato said. The injury caused swelling in the boy's brain, bleeding in his eyes and resulted in serious, permanent brain damage, he said.
Doctors will testify that the only time they see injuries like those Reubyne Jr. suffered are in children who are severely shaken or involved in crashes involving cars traveling at high speeds, Oyasato said.
Pada allegedly did little to save her son, and it wasn't until after she paged a church friend around 10 p.m. on Aug. 31 that Reubyne was taken to Castle Hospital, against Pada's objections, Oyasato said.
Reubyne Jr., now 5, remains in a vegetative state at a convalescent home. His mother, if convicted, faces a life term with the possibility of parole and a mandatory minimum term of 15 years, Oyasato said. The mandatory minimum is based on a statute that governs offenses against the elderly or children 8 or younger.
Pada also faces one-year terms on each of two counts of abuse of a household member.
Oyasato said the attempted murder charge can be proved in two ways -- by Pada's alleged acts of abuse and commission, or by her failure to seek care and medical attention for her son.
Born prematurely on Aug. 14, 1993, after only 26 weeks of gestation, Reubyne Jr. suffered from a respiratory condition and was slow to develop. He was in and out of foster homes for most of his life, Oyasato said.
State social workers repeatedly returned him to his mother. Among the documented injuries he suffered after being returned to his mother were cuts and wounds over his entire body and burns consistent with being scorched with cigarettes, the prosecutor said.
The most notable injury was to his left foot, which had been "cooked" in a hot liquid, burning away the skin and leaving the nerves exposed and damaged, Oyasato said. Pada had said the injury was caused by his 5-year-old sister holding a hair dryer to his foot, Oyasato said.
The two charges of abuse of a household member stem from two beatings witnessed on May 26, 1997, Oyasato said.
Pada's mother, who lived next door to her daughter in Kailua, stopped Pada after watching her grab the boy's hair and repeatedly hit him with her hands while Reubyne Jr. "just stood there and took it," Oyasato said.
That same day, a teen-age cousin saw Pada punching her son four to six times on the head and body, Oyasato said.
While all four of her children suffered learning difficulties, Pada treated her third child differently because of his medical condition and mostly because his father was Reubyne Buentipo Sr., Oyasato said.
Pada had told people that she disliked Reubyne Buentipo Sr. to a point that bordered on hatred, Oyasato said.
Arlene Kawamata, who befriended Pada in April 1997 after meeting her at a Windward Worship Center church service, testified that Pada was under extreme stress caring for her children -- all drug babies with different learning disabilities and without support from their fathers.
Pada had confided that the anger she directed toward her son Reubyne Jr. may have been the result of abuse and beatings suffered at the hands of the boy's father who was in prison at the time. "I do love my son, I don't know how to relate to him, I don't know how," Kawamata recalled Pada telling her.
Deputy public defender Mary Wong did not give opening statements and declined to discuss a defense.
The trial, which resumes tomorrow, is expected to last about four to six weeks.
The Buentipo case spurred discussion on the ways the state protects children from abusive families and resulted in a law passed last year.
Dubbed "Reubyne's Bill," it requires child welfare advocates, social workers, doctors and Family Court to put child safety first, instead of family reunification, in deciding whether to return children to homes where they were abused.
Questions raised over
returning abused children
to their parents
The kids want to go back home butBy Lori Tighe
this can result in problems, according
to a police detective
Police call it the "Stockholm syndrome:" A victim begins to like his or her captive.
It also occurs with Hawaii's abused children who want to be returned to their families, said Honolulu police Detective Alexander Garcia.
"Is the priority reunification, or safety of the child?" Garcia asked. He testified at yesterday's House Human Services Committee hearing on the audit of the state Department of Human Services.
Although the department agrees with the recent state auditor's report on its faults, the department didn't offer many answers to fixing the problems, said Rep. Dennis Arakaki.
Workers in Child Protective Services, the child-abuse investigating unit of Human Services, won't return police officers calls, Garcia said. They give police child-abuse reports a few days after they investigate, with the offenders names whited out for confidentiality reasons.
"This stymies our investigation," Garcia said. "When we have to go back and interview the child again it further traumatizes the child."
Child Protective Services insists on visitations between "terribly battered" children and their parents, Garcia said. "That is their policy. The department is long overdue for a communication overhaul," he said.
Department spokeswoman Pat Snyder responded: "Safety is the priority. People criticize reunification as bad for the child, that's not the point. Most children want the abuse to stop and to be with their families."
State auditor Marion Higa said faulty communication within Human Services pervades the department itself, where reports of child abuse often stop with a single worker's decision.
"We reviewed 112 cases statewide that DHS intake workers had not referred to investigation and were unable to confirm supervisory review for 88 percent of these cases," Higa said.
But just because Higa didn't find proof a supervisor checked the decision doesn't mean it didn't happen, said Kate Stanley, deputy human services director. The department uses an unfriendly computer system, she said. Supervisors and workers are reluctant to go into the system and document their work.
Also, contrary to Hawaii's child-abuse statistics "remaining level" in the past few years, the Department of Human Services refuses to accept some reports, Higa said.
"We obtained 45 written reports made by mandated reporters statewide and found that 13 percent of these reports were not identified in DHS' intake logs," she said.
But rules require the Department of Human Services accept all reports of abuse and neglect, Higa noted.
"It's not a fail-safe system," said Stanley. "It probably never will be."
But the department will take the state auditor's recommendations into account and review its procedures.
"It's an ongoing process," she said, "to improve the system."