Lawmakers, family give ‘Karen's Law' new life - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Lawmakers, family give ‘Karen's Law' new life

Kevin Callahan Kevin Callahan
Malanie McLellan Malanie McLellan

By Leland Kim - bio | email

HAWAII STATE CAPITOL (KHNL) -  A new legislative session gives new life Thursday to "Karen's Law," a bill that would impose harsher penalties for juveniles convicted of murder.

It's been revived this session by members of the Senate and the House of Representatives and it has bipartisan support.  "Karen's Law" (HB 819) is named after Karen Ertell, an Ewa beach woman who was brutally raped and murdered almost two years ago.

"I think she would be amazed it has gone this far," said Kevin Callahan, Ertell's boyfriend.

Last session, it died in the House Judiciary Committee.  This session, the bill has support from both Democrats and Republicans, including prominent members of the state house and senate.  Ertell's family is hoping something can be done this session.

Karen Ertell was a mother, a neighbor, and a girlfriend. And some call her a savior.

"That was Karen. She was always rescuing dogs, cats, and me," said Malanie McLellan, Ertell's adopted  daughter. "I was her foster child. She was always taking people and things and everybody in."

In May 2007, she was raped and murdered.  Vernon Bartley, her accused killer, was only 15 years old at the time of the crime.  Ertell was scheduled to testify against Bartley in a criminal trial.

It took more than a year before a judge ruled he would be tried as an adult.  From Karen's death, "Karen's Law" came to life.

"Really what this is, what we're trying to do today is ensure that families don't have to go through two trials," said Rep. Kymberly Pine, R-Ewa Beach, Iroquois Point, Puuloa, Ocean Pointe.  "Because it's been very emotional for them to have to relive the whole experience over and over again."

The bill died last session in the House Judiciary Committee, but this session, it has broader bipartisan support.

"It seems like there's a whole lot more people involved from the house, senate, Democrats, Republicans so it sounds a lot more promising this time," said Callahan.  "If any representation of the bill makes it to the floor, it would be a huge success."

"I'm a little more confident. I feel like people are a little more open to just hearing the bill," said McLellan. "That makes me hopeful because I kind of felt like before there was just a wall up to not even listen to it and it was shot down before it had a chance and now I feel like people are just more open minded."

House Judiciary chair Jon Riki Karamatsu, D-Waipahu, Waikele, Village Park, is open to it, but says the minor's intent, mental state, and other factors need to be addressed.

"We're trying to look at angles to make sure those safeguards are still met so there might be potential discussions to see how we can work with our judicial system on this," he said.

"We have to be open to arguments from the judiciary, from some of the other defense attorneys and be respectful," added Rep. John Mizuno, D-Moanalua, Kalihi Valley, ‘Alewa Heights.

Ertell's family says Karen's Law, if passed, would be a fitting legacy to a woman who gave so much of herself to others.

"She was always trying to help people do better and people have better for themselves," said McLellan. "And this law continues what Karen stood for."

Pine, Mizuno and others in favor of "Karen's Law" say they face an uphill battle.  They hope to work with their colleagues to reach some sort of a compromise this session.

Mizuno is also working on a bill (HB 1649) that would protect people who witnessed a crime.

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