Christopher Aki listened in court yesterday as a jury convicted him on manslaughter in the killing of Kahealani Indreginal, 11.

Jurors back off
murder verdict

Christopher Aki faces 20 years
in prison for manslaughter
in the brutal death of a girl

A Circuit Court jury convicted Christopher Aki of manslaughter yesterday for recklessly causing the death of 11-year-old Kahealani Indreginal.

Aki, 21, the longtime boyfriend of Kahealani's half sister, was charged with second-degree murder for causing the girl's death intentionally or by failing to get help after Kahealani was badly beaten and abandoned at Keaiwa Heiau State Park on Dec. 10, 2002.

The girl's body was found three days later. Her disappearance from the Puuwai Momi housing complex in Halawa sparked an intense search by police and family that included pleas for the public's help.

With a conviction on the lesser offense, Aki faces a maximum 20 years in prison. However, he is also eligible for probation or a seven-year prison term if he is sentenced as a youthful offender.

Second-degree murder is punishable by life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Aki, who remained composed throughout the nearly three-week trial, showed no reaction when the verdict was announced shortly before noon yesterday. The five-woman and seven-man jury deliberated for 4 1/2 days.

Outside the courtroom, Deputy Public Defender Todd Eddins said Aki has always felt he was to blame for the girl's death because he took her to the park, but maintains he did not kill her.

"We're gratified Chris was acquitted of the murder charge. However, a young man has been convicted of a crime he did not commit," Eddins said. He said they plan to appeal and that Aki is optimistic the case will be overturned.

While Eddins did not speak to jurors after the decision was announced, he said the verdict suggests they believed Aki did not kill the girl and convicted him of manslaughter because he failed to render aid.

City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle said he believes the jury did everything they could to reach their verdict because of the time they took to deliberate and their desire to view the tapes of Aki's confession during deliberations.

While he did not agree with the jury's verdict, Carlisle said "it's certainly one I can understand."

The state's case was built on circumstantial evidence that prosecutors felt was strong enough to support a murder verdict, he said.

"We felt the DNA evidence and the incredibility of his statement would have been enough to carry it for a murder verdict," Carlisle said.

Among the factors that weighed in Aki's favor was that Kahealani's body was not found for several days, so forensic evidence was weaker than it could have been, and that no one saw him at the state park, Carlisle said.

He declined to speculate on how the jury reached its decision. The jurors left without speaking to the attorneys and also declined to speak with reporters.

Prosecutors argued at trial that Aki confessed to being solely responsible for killing Kahealani while under the effects of crystal methamphetamine he had smoked the day before.

He told police he had accidentally spit food on the girl's face and that she slapped him and he "snapped." He said he knocked her out with his fist, then beat her more than 20 times with a pipe before abandoning her at the park.

At trial, Aki testified that Kahealani's uncle Dennis Cacatian was the real killer. Aki said he falsely confessed because Cacatian had pointed a gun at his head and threatened to harm him and his family if he told anyone what happened.

The defense lashed out at police for failing to recover a bloodstained rock as a murder weapon -- DNA tests showed Kahealani's blood was on it -- and for failing to investigate Cacatian, a convicted rapist, until nearly two months later.

Carlisle said there was no physical or eyewitness evidence linking anyone besides Aki to the case other than Aki's "very fertile imagination."

"And if your only witness is Chris Aki, that's not credible evidence in the courtroom," he said.

Eddins called it a travesty that in the police's zeal to "scapegoat" Aki, "they have seemingly botched any realistic shot at prosecuting the real killer."

Aki testified at trial that he had driven Kahealani, whom he regarded as a sister, to the state park to confront Cacatian over allegations he had been touching her inappropriately.

He said Cacatian went into a rage after Aki told him he believed the girl. He said he later saw Cacatian standing over the girl with a knife as she lay on the ground bleeding from the neck, and then watched in shock as Cacatian smashed a large rock on her head at least six times.

Honolulu Medical Examiner Kanthi Von Guenthner testified the injuries Kahealani suffered were consistent with being beaten with a heavy metal pipe. Had the 40-pound rock the defense alleges was the murder weapon had been used, Kahealani's face would have been crushed, she testified.

Von Guenthner also found circular impressions on Kahealani's hip and waist consistent with marks made by the end of a pipe.

Although Kahealani had also been stabbed repeatedly with a sharp object, Von Guenthner concluded she died from the blows to her head and neck.

Cacatian has denied any involvement and has not been charged. When called by the defense to testify, he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, but not in the jury's presence. The court told the jury he was not available to testify.

Michael Weight, Cacatian's public defender in an unrelated federal case, said his client was distressed that Aki was convicted of the lesser offense.

"This has been a devastating matter for the entire family and particularly devastating to Dennis because his name keeps getting dragged through the mud at every turn," Weight said.

Cacatian had every right to not testify. "If prosecutors believed Cacatian was lying, they could prosecute him for perjury, and Dennis has a right not to put himself in that jeopardy," Weight said.

Central to the defense's appeal will be Cacatian's refusal to testify, the jury not being told he refused to testify and the defense's inability to question him, Eddins said.

"The jury is left with the inference -- why didn't the defense call this witness -- and we wanted to," Eddins said. The jury should have been told that Cacatian asserted his constitutional right to not testify, particularly when someone other than the defendant is alleged to be the killer, he said.

The court also did not allow statements by Eldefonso "Pancho" Cacatian, Dennis Cacatian's brother, to be admitted as evidence, saying they were not trustworthy.

Eldefonso Cacatian had told investigators for the defense a month before Aki's trial that his brother had told him he killed Kahealani. He also gave police more information concerning his brother as recently as May 1.

But the day before he was to testify, Eldefonso Cacatian was taken to the Queen's Medical Center in a coma due to an apparent drug overdose. He died Saturday.

Carlisle said he expects to seek the maximum term when Aki is sentenced July 12. The state is also prepared to take Aki to trial on unrelated firearm charges from an incident prior to Kahealani's death.

Eddins said he will ask that Aki's sentencing date be advanced because Aki turns 22 on July 3. A defendant must be under age 22 as well as have no prior felony convictions to be eligible for sentencing as a youthful offender.


Potential witness
for Aki dies

Eldefonso Guzman Cacatian Jr., who had been subpoenaed to testify in the Christopher Aki murder case but could not because he was in a coma from an apparent drug overdose, died Saturday in the Queen's Medical Center.

The defense attorney for Christopher Aki, who was convicted of manslaughter in the death of Kahealani Indreginal, said Aki blamed the death on her uncle Dennis Cacatian.

Cacatian denied any involvement in Kahealani's death and invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself when called by the Aki defense to answer questions about the girl's death.

According to defense documents, Eldefonso Cacatian would have been able to testify that his brother, Dennis, told him that he had killed Kahealani.

Cacatian, 47, of Aiea, was a carpenter. He was born in Honolulu.

He is survived by son Jared Kaluluhi; daughter Malia; brothers Dennis Cacatian, Eddie Rothman and Anthony, Solomon and Thomas Mamala; and sisters Colleen Tinoga, Charlene Nataniela, Poni Wolfe, Marcelina Loner, Naomi Brett, Lehua Tumbaga, Ilima Mahi, Ala Perreira and Geri and Christina Mamala.

Services: 9 a.m. Saturday at Salvation Army ARC Iwilei, 322 Sumner St. Scattering of ashes to follow at Sunset Beach Park.


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