Prosecutor seeks toughest sentence in child murder case, but legal experts say most end with plea deals

However, many of the high profile child murder cases in Hawaii have ended with plea agreements and sentences shorter than expected.
Published: Nov. 18, 2021 at 4:59 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 18, 2021 at 5:45 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - City Prosecutor Steve Alm says he’ll be seeking a life sentence without the possibility of parole if Isaac and Lehua Kalua are found guilty of second-degree murder.

The couple is charged with killing 6-year old “Isabella” Ariel Kalua, who they adopted earlier this year. Prosecutors say the girl was kept in a dog cage, starved and died with duct tape over her nose and mouth.

“It’s a child, that is helpless, defenseless. If it’s true, no one will say the punishment is too much,” said defense attorney Michael Green.

But while the two face extended sentencing guidelines because of the age of the victim, legal experts say few child murder cases go to trial in Hawaii. Most end with plea deals and lighter sentences.

Earlier this year, Kevin Lehano and Tiffany Stone were sentenced to 10 years probation for their role in the death of their 9-year old daughter, Shaelynn.

The child was beaten and starved to death. Both pleaded no contest to manslaughter. They each served about four years in jail before being released.

Henrietta Stone, the girl’s grandmother, is the only one wanting to go to trial for murder.

Peter Kema, Sr. pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of his son “Peter Boy” and was sentenced to 20 years in 2017.

His wife, Jaylen Kema, also pleaded to manslaughter and got 10 years but was released after just one.

Peter Boy’s body was never found. But as part of the plea deal, his father had to show police and prosecutors where he dumped the child’s remains in the ocean off Puna.

“Murder trials in general are difficult to prove, especially when you don’t have a body,” said defense attorney Megan Kau, who was once a city deputy prosecutor.

Kau said another difficult factor in the Kalua case: Isabella’s older sister is the main witness.

“She’ll be sitting in court, 20 feet away from these people who abused her and put her through this, and she’ll have to testify,” Kau said.

She said that’s tough for adults to do and could be excruciating for the 12 year old.

Finding the child’s remains could ease the pain for Isabella’s biological family members, who are heartbroken by the details of alleged abuse the girl suffered at the hands of her adoptive parents.

Green said getting one of the parents to turn and provide information on the girl’s remains could be worth a plea deal. “If this girl is allowed to be buried in a place where there’s dignity,” Green said.

Meanwhile, Kaluas are being held without bail.

A recent child murder case that ended with a life sentence happened in federal court in 2015.

Army soldier Naeem Williams was found guilty of killing his 6-year old daughter Talia Williams. He beat the girl to death. There is no parole in the federal system.

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