HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state appears to be relying on a technicality in a bid to avoid a civil lawsuit over the death of Peter Kema, Jr., known as Peter Boy.
The Kema siblings are suing the state in a wrongful death case.
But the state is arguing the family took too long to file the lawsuit ― 20 years too long.
That’s even though the siblings didn’t know for sure that Peter Boy was dead until their mother’s courtroom confession on Dec. 1, 2016.
In their lawsuit, the family accuses the state of failing to act on reports and outcries that the children ― and especially the 6-year old ― were being abused before his murder in 1997.
Their mother, Jaylin Kema, admitted in court that she did not get Peter Boy medical treatment after his father caused a wound that got infected. It was so bad, it smelled horrible and his flesh rotted.
The boy died from the infection after months of suffering.
The attorney for the siblings, Randall Rosenberg, says the state Department of Human Services also bears responsibility for the boy’s death.
It was well-documented that the Kemas abused the children, but state Child Protective Services, a branch of DHS, returned the children to them.
In January 1997, their grandparents reported that they saw Peter Boy with a black eye and a wound on his arm. The state took no action, according to Rosenberg and the grandfather, James Acol.
Then, in April 1997, a counselor reported that Peter Boy had a broken arm that caused by his father and that the father made Peter Boy eat dog feces as punishment.
“Those facts are clear and inescapable," Rosenberg said, "The state made mistakes at the time, the most critical time in Peter Boy’s life, and they didn’t act. As a result, he was murdered.”
Rosenberg said three months after the counselor’s report, in July 1997, an investigator was finally sent to the Kema home, but it was too late. Peter Boy was not there.
The parents reported him missing, saying they dropped him off on Oahu with an “Aunty Rose Makuakane,” a lie that threw off the search efforts to find Peter Boy.
The siblings filed the civil suit shortly after their mother’s admission in court, but the state is now saying the statute of limitations ― two years after death ― had run out.
“This is a technicality and it’s the worst kind of technicality, because they know that the children, the siblings of Peter Boy, could not have filed earlier," Rosenberg said.
He added the state is taking advantage of the 20-year gap when the boy was missing.
After Peter Boy was reported missing, the siblings were taken from the Kemas and grew up with relatives, the grandparents.
They thrived despite the years of abuse and witnessing their brother’s horrifying last few months.
“These are wonderful kids and all three of them have become parents, all three, and they’re the best parents I have ever seen. They have somehow managed to survive this,” Rosenberg said, choking back tears.
Hawaii News Now did reach out to the State Department of Human Services.
In a written statement, a spokesperson said the agency could not comment on active litigation. “However,” the spokesperson said, "we recognize the difficulty that the family has been through.”