HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The new attorney for "Peter Boy" Kema's relatives says the state's Department of Human Services should be held accountable for the decision to return the 6-year-old to his abusive parents 20 years ago, despite multiple warnings that the child's life could be in danger.
"We should be angry, and we should not accept this kind of outcome," said Randall Rosenberg, who was recently hired by the boy's siblings to represent the family. Rosenberg expects to file a civil lawsuit on their behalf later this year.
It is an unusual for a claim to be filed so long after the case, but Rosenberg said "Peter Boy" is only officially listed as "missing" and that his parents -- up until recently -- denied he was dead.
Last December, the boy's mother, Jaylin Kema, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in court, the first confirmation that the boy had been killed.
Rosenberg believes that was the day the clock started on the two year statute of limitations for a wrongful death lawsuit.
The mother's plea prompted her husband, Peter Kema, Sr., to also admit in court to his role in the boy's death back in 1997. As part of his plea deal, in what had been one of Hawaii's most well-known unsolved murders, Kema is supposed to tell investigators where the boy's remains are located.
Last year, a family court judge appointed investigator Stephen Lane as "special master" in the case.
His report, compiled after reviewing thousands of documents and conducting dozens of interviews, was filed earlier this month and is considered ammunition for the future civil claim.
"It's very painful to know that this child was subjected to this kind of behavior over a prolonged period of time," says Lane.
The report includes memos from DHS social workers, including one who warned that the Kema children were at "extreme risk" if they were returned to the parents.
The children had been removed from the home to live with their grandparents, where all of them were thriving. But Child Protective Services workers subsequently returned Peter Boy and the others to the Kemas.
Lane's report indicates that Kema's siblings told counselors that "Peter Boy" got the worst of the abuse from their father -- that he was often chained to the foot of the bed overnight and he would be locked in the trunk of the car, even in the hot sunlight.
Lane also said that multiple people reported the boy's injuries to DHS employees, but that those reports were ignored.
One injury on Peter Boy's arm, according to the report, was so bad that investigators believe it got infected and ultimately led to his death.
The conclusion of Lane's report?
"It is probable that had CPS complied with their own standards and protocols and acted ... as the law required Peter Boy would alive today."
After Peter Boy disappeared in 1997, his siblings were permanently returned to their grandparents.
Rosenberg said the siblings suffered tremendously, not only at the hands of their parents, but in the 20 years that followed as they wondered about Peter Boy's fate. For that, Rosengberg said, the state needs to be held accountable.
"There are no damages that can make this right," he said. "Whatever the amount is, obviously, it doesn't bring the child back."