Wednesday, December 29, 1999

Judge overturns mother’s
minimum sentence in
child-abuse death

By Susan Kreifels


Citing a state Supreme Court ruling, a Circuit Court judge yesterday struck down a mandatory minimum sentence given to a woman who punched and stomped her 20-month-old daughter to death.

A prosecutor said she doesn't believe the ruling by Circuit Judge Marie Milks will lessen the 20 years the Hawaii Paroling Authority has ordered Jennifer Edwards to serve.

But she thought the action could change minimum sentences in other cases involving child and elderly victims.

Milks, saying the high court "has spoken on the issue," struck down the mandatory minimum sentence of six years and eight months she had handed to Edwards.

Two weeks after the Aug. 10 sentencing, the Supreme Court ruled in another case that jurors must determine a victim is under 8 or over 60, which automatically leads to minimum-sentence guidelines.

Deputy public defender Ed Harada asked Milks to retroactively apply the high court's ruling to the Edwards case, even though Edwards herself testified about her daughter Cedra's age.

There is no state precedent for reconvening a jury, and Milks said calling a new jury would be too expensive. But she also said her decision was a "close call" and recommended the Supreme Court examine it.

Regardless of any high court ruling, Deputy Prosecutor Lucianne Khalaf said she doubted the paroling authority will change its mind. The authority earlier this month ordered Edwards to serve 20 years in prison for her reckless manslaughter conviction because she failed to seek timely medical care for Cedra.

The authority said it would review Edwards' rehabilitation after 10 years and consider reducing the sentence if she showed progress.

Harada said he would wait to appeal Edwards' minimum sentence until members of the appointed paroling authority change.

"There might be a substantial difference in the board in a year or two," Harada said. "Nothing they do is set in stone."

Khalaf said Milks' decision to retroactively apply the high court's ruling could affect other cases. Those include the case of Kimberly Pada, who was convicted of beating and shaking her son, Reubyne Buentipo Jr., in 1997, and leaving him comatose. The paroling authority gave Pada the same sentence as Edwards.

Edwards already has appealed her conviction to the Supreme Court, and the issue could be raised again then.

Khalaf said any decision to appeal Milks' decision will depend on whether the state determines such an action would be helpful to its cases overall. While all U.S. Supreme Court rulings apply retroactively to pending cases, the state still considers each case separately.

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