Trial begins for teen accused of killing, raping neighbor - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Trial begins for teen accused of killing, raping neighbor

Malanie McLellan Malanie McLellan

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email 

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - With only his father in court to support him, a 17-year-old boy accused of strangling his neighbor went on trial -- as an adult -- on murder, sex assault, robbery, auto theft, identity theft and other charges Tuesday.

Vernon Bartley, who's accused of killing Karen Ertell at her Ewa Beach home, kept his head lowered throughout the day's proceedings.

The lingering pain in Malanie McLellan's heart was obvious when she was shown a photo of her foster mother, who was killed in May 2007.

"That's Karen Ertell," McLellan said through tears.

"Is this a fair and accurate picture of Karen Ertell?" Douglas Chin, deputy prosecutor, asked.

"Yes," the victim's foster daughter replied.

Vernon Bartley is accused of strangling his 51-year-old neighbor in the carport of her Ewa Beach home, and then dragging her to her bed, putting on a condom and raping her, before driving off in her car. 

McLellan was among those who found the victim, after she failed to show up for work.

"We all called Karen's name and we were looking for her," she said while choking back tears. 

"All the doors were shut, so I opened the bathroom door first on my left and then opened the next."

"Someone opened her bedroom door.  I don't remember who," McLellan recalled.

Prosecutors say Bartley, then 15, was later caught on bank surveillance video trying to use Ertell's ATM card.  Her Volvo can be seen in the footage.

Prosecutors say the defendant had broken into Ertell's house several times before, and she was about to testify against him in court.

"The state of Hawaii will ask that Vernon Bartley, for the gruesome, violent and detestable acts he committed, be convicted on all counts," Chin said in his opening statement.

The defense did not give an opening statement, but plans to argue that Bartley was struggling with the victim for her keys and didn't intend to kill her.  The defense also says there's no sexual assault because you can't commit that crime on a dead person.

As of now, the teen is not expected to testify in his own defense.

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