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Her mom was found dead at a Kalihi bus stop. A month later, questions still remain

More than a month after a 51-year-old woman was sexually assaulted and found dead at a Kalihi bus stop, many questions surrounding her death linger.
Published: May. 24, 2022 at 9:42 PM HST|Updated: May. 24, 2022 at 10:24 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - More than a month after a 51-year-old woman was sexually assaulted and found dead at a Kalihi bus stop, many questions surrounding her death linger.

Cassie-Lee Smits is left agonizing over her mother’s final moments, she’s also wondering why the suspect was let go after prosecutors failed to file charges.

On the morning of April 21, Smits got the heartbreaking call about her mom Jennifer Smits.

“I was very distraught. People like to say, ‘Oh, I had an out of body experience,’ but this was not a good one. That’s what it felt like,” Smits said. “I could barely walk to be honest. I was in total shock and disbelief.”

Her mother had been found unresponsive at a bus stop along Dillingham Boulevard near Kalihi Street. Police initially classified the case as an unattended death, but later learned Smits had apparently been sexually assaulted.

The daughter of Jennifer Smits is remembering the life her mother lived after she was...
The daughter of Jennifer Smits is remembering the life her mother lived after she was mysteriously found dead at a Kalihi bus stop in late April.(Hawaii News Now)

Her family says police told them it had been captured on nearby surveillance cameras, with one especially haunting detail unknown.

“They told me they couldn’t confirm at the time that it took place whether my mom had passed away or if she was still alive,” Smits said.

Smits said her mom was in-and-out of homelessness, but recently found stable housing. She also sought treatment for mental illness.

“My mom, in the most simple terms, she was very wholesome,” Smits added. “Knowing in a time like this, this is probably when I would need her most and that I can’t just fall into her arms Is the hardest thing... she’s my best friend.”

Her family desperately wants to know what caused her death. They say the autopsy came back inconclusive, and a toxicology report is still pending.

Nearly three weeks after Smit’s death, the 47-year-old suspect in the case was arrested in the University area on May 10 but he was released pending investigation.

Attorney and legal expert Megan Kau says this case presents significant challenges for the prosecution.

“If you don’t have a victim, or the victim is unavailable, or the victim has passed away — it’s extremely difficult to prove that the victim did not give consent because who else is gonna testify to that?” Kau said.

She added that prosecutors would likely have to rely heavily on witness testimony if charges are pursued.

Meanwhile, Smit’s daughter says her family deserves closure.

“If we already know the DNA is his, and we already know surveillance shows that its him — Why is he out? I think it’s a simple enough question,” Smits said.

Donations through a GoFundMe account have poured in to help offset Jennifer’s funeral costs.

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