'Karen's Law' Dies in House, Senate Committees

HAWAII STATE CAPITOL (KHNL) -- Lawmakers and victims' families call for tougher laws against juvenile murder suspects.

"The family is trying to tell us loud and clear there's a problem with the system," said Rep. Kymberly Pine, (R-Ewa, Puuloa, Ocean Pointe, Ewa Beach).

A series of house and senate bills aimed to increase penalties for juveniles who commit violent murders, died in committee.

The bills were proposed following the murder of an Ewa Beach woman last year.

There were three bills -- two from the senate, one from the house -- that called for certain juvenile murder suspects to be tried as adults. All three bills died.

Victims are frustrated, but lawmakers say there's a good reason why the bills did not move forward.

Family and friends describe Karen Ertell as a caring and loving person.

"Was the love of my life and was one of the most wonderful women you can imagine," said Kevin Callahan, her long-time boyfriend.

Last year, she was raped and murdered. A juvenile neighbor is the suspect. If he goes through the juvenile court system and is found guilty, he could be out of jail in a few years.

"Well, we had contacted Rep. Kymberly Pine to help us try and get the courts to see that the suspect needed to be tried as an adult," said Callahan.

So, one house and two senate bills -- called "Karen's Law" were introduced, calling for 15 to 17 year olds accused of first and second degree murders to be tried as adults.

"The reason we introduced this bill is because the family has had to go back and forth to the courts four time for a delay of the judge just deciding which court the juvenile is tried in," said Rep. Pine.

But all three bills died in committee.

"Criminals have so many rights but families of victims are treated as second class citizens," said Rep. Pine. "And that's clear what happened at the legislature this week."

But Sen. Brian Taniguchi (D-Manoa, Mo'ili'ili, McCully, Makiki) said juvenile law is very complicated, and he needs more information.

"I think we need a little bit more discussion on the whole area rather than rush to judgment to change the law," he said.

In the past ten years, there were nine waivers to try juvenile murder suspects as adult. All nine were granted.

"Tat means every time the prosecutor asked for a waiver, meaning tried someone as an adult, it was granted," said Rep. Tommy Waters (D-Judiciary Committee Chair).

While the system appears to be working, victims' families say the law should be automatic.

"These laws are to protect the community," said Callahan. "It's not just about punishment; it's about protecting the rest of us."

Rep. Pine said she still believes in "Karen's Law" and will continue fighting for it this session.

Rep. Waters and Sen. Taniguchi said our current system protects victims and is functioning the way it should.