HILO, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - "Peter Boy" Kema's mother pleaded guilty to manslaughter Thursday in the 1997 death of her 6-year-old son, a major breakthrough in one of Hawaii's most well-known unsolved murder cases,
"I failed to protect my son," said Jaylin Kema in a Hilo courtroom, in response to the judge's question about why she believes she was guilty.
Kema and her husband, Peter Kema Sr., initially pleaded not guilty to murder in April. She will now testify against her husband in his upcoming trial.
Deputy prosecutor Rick Damerville described the case Thursday as "highly emotional ... for anyone who touches it."
In court, he referred to Peter Boy by his other nickname, "Pepe," and choked up as he described a wound that got infected and is believed to have ultimately led to Peter Boy's death.
"A forensic pathologist would testify that given the nature of Pepe's injuries, Pepe died ... as a result of septic shock and as a result of the parents not obtaining medical care for Pepe," he said.
Sources say Jaylin Kema has been cooperating with prosecutors trying to determine what happened to Peter Boy, who disappeared from his Hawaii Island home in 1997. His body was never found, but police concluded that he was murdered.
The couple has been the only suspects in Peter Boy's disappearance, but police were never able to file charges. Then in April, following months of new leads and interviews, both were indicted in the murder case.
Peter Boy's disappearance nearly two decades ago set off intense police investigations and a media firestorm. It also raised serious questions about state Child Protective Services, and triggered a series of reforms aimed at better protecting abused kids.
The Kemas had been facing state CPS investigations for years before Peter Boy's death, and documents showed he had been the victim of repeated incidents of abuse. At just 3 months old, he was brought to Hilo Hospital with multiple new and healing fractures.
The Kemas' other children hoped one of the parents would turn on the other so the family could finally get answers.
"It answers a question of what happened to Peter Boy," said Hawaii County Prosecuting Attorney Mitch Roth, outside of court Thursday. "It feels good to be where we're at but we're not done yet."
Under the plea deal, prosecutors will recommend that Jaylin Kema serve 10 years probation, with only one year in jail.
Damerville said he understands that people will think that is a small price to pay for what she did, but Damerville says she has also suffered.
"Once all the facts come out, and that can only happen in this trial, I think the public will understand," he said.
Peter Kema, Sr.'s trial is scheduled for April.
Mobile users: Click here to see a timeline of Peter Boy's life and the investigation into his disappearance.