The Search for Peter Boy, Part 5: The Guilty Pleas

The Search for Peter Boy, Part 5: The Guilty Pleas
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

ONCE THE KEMAS WERE ARRESTED, although for minor charges, they were back in the spotlight.

After all those years, they now knew they were being watched again.

Then, on April 28, 2016, Peter Kema, Sr. was handcuffed outside his Hilo workplace. The arrest, the result of a grand jury indictment.

But a delay in the court paperwork forced Hawaii County Police to improvise, taking him in for traffic violations.

About an hour later, the murder indictments were finalized.

And Jaylin Kema was called to her husband's workplace to pick up the couple's car, where she was arrested, too.

Nineteen years after their son suffered a torturous death, the Kemas were finally charged with it.

The indictment was the easy part, though, it's just an accusation.

Getting a conviction for murder — proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt after 20 years and with no body — would be a huge challenge.

It was also risky. Prosecutors had to charge murder because time had run out for any other possible charge, including manslaughter.

If they lost at trial, the Kemas would have escaped justice forever.

The prosecution had one shot, but they also had a strategy: Divide and conquer.

In Dec. 2016, Jaylin Kema pleaded guilty to manslaughter under a deal that would have her testifying against her husband.

"I failed to protect my son," she told the court.

That plea deal changed everything; Peter Kema Sr. was now alone in his silence.

What would it take to get a man who claimed he was innocent for 20 years to finally admit guilt?

His wife turning against him, prosecutors soon learned.

Knowing Jaylin Kema was going to take the stand at his upcoming murder trial, Peter Kema was ready to make a deal of his own.

But Big Island Prosecuting Attorney Mitch Roth wasn't quite ready to negotiate. Dropping the charge from murder to manslaughter — as he did with Jaylin Kema — would take the life sentence off the table.

Roth said he grappled with it for days.

A big factor in his decision: What the family wanted more than anything was answers. Answers about 6-year old Peter Boy's death. Answers Peter Kema Sr. would likely keep to himself if he went to trial.

"This case was personal to all of us," Roth said. "If we went to trial, we probably would have never known, even if we got the conviction, we would have probably never known and never have that answer, never have that closure."

Roth said a Hawaii News Now interview from 2014, with Peter Boy's grandfather Jimmy Acol, weighed on his mind.

In the interview, Acol talked about what his wife told her on her death bed: "My wife said before she passed, 'Don't give up.'"

Roth decided to make the deal.

And on April 5, Peter Kema, Sr. went to court to finally admit he'd killed his son; he'd killed Peter Boy.

"Are you pleading guilty of your own free will?" the judge asked him that day.

"Yes, your honor."

"Are you pleading guilty because, after discussing all of all the evidence and on the advice of your lawyer, you believe that you are guilty?"

"Yes, I am, your honor."

As he spoke, Kema tried to hide behind his attorney. He never once turned to look at his family in the gallery, not even his own daughter, who he hadn't seen since she was 4 years old.

"It was very hard. I guess I had a lot of anger, a lot of sadness," Lina Acol said, "knowing this could be the time where he's actually telling the truth."

The deal dropped the maximum sentence to 20 years. But there was a condition.

Kema had to reveal the secrets he had held since 1997 — details of the torture his son endured, what finally killed the boy. And most importantly, how he disposed of the remains.


Copyright 2017 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.