Murder Victim's Family, Friends Call for Changes to Juvenile System

William Harrison
William Harrison

HONOLULU (KHNL) -- Family and friends of an Ewa Beach woman murdered last year are calling for changes to the juvenile justice system, as they wait for movement in the 15-year-old suspect's case.

Donning a pink T-shirt in honor of her foster mother, Malanie McLellan describes the past eight months as excruciating.

"She was the mother I'd always wished for," the victim's foster daughter said through tears.

Fifty-one-year-old Karen Ertell was raped and strangled in her Ewa Beach home last May. Her 15-year-old neighbor is accused of the violent crime.

"There's not a day that goes by that we don't spend most of the day thinking about Karen," Kevin Callahan, victim's boyfriend, said. "And this is a life sentence for us."

"Yet still today, there's not even a court case or a court hearing to start to get justice for Karen," Rep. Kymberly Pine, (R) Ewa Beach, added.

Now, several lawmakers are supporting Karen's Law, a package of bills that seeks to change the way juvenile suspects are treated. Under one proposal, Family Court would automatically waive jurisdiction over children between the ages of 15 and 18 if they're accused of heinous crimes such as murder and sex assault.

"She was constantly giving to other people," McLellan said about Ertell. "And in a way, this law is a way for her to keep giving."

But not everyone agrees.

"The setup as it is now, where the Family Court reviews matters and determines whether the person should in fact be waived, is very sufficient," William Harrison, criminal defense attorney, said.

Harrison says every young suspect is different.

"What we have now protects both those who are naïve and uninitiated, and also takes care of the individuals that the courts believe are people who should be kept from society," he said.

But it's a system a grieving family believes can be improved.

A Family Court hearing for the suspect in Ertell's murder is scheduled for April.