Parents of ‘Peter Boy’ Kema charged with murder

Peter Kema Sr. and Jaylin Kema

Nearly two decades after “Peter Boy” Kema disappeared, Hawaii County prosecutors have charged his parents with second-degree murder.

Indictments were handed down Wednesday against Peter Kema Sr., 45, and Jaylin Kema, 46, and unsealed Thursday in a Hilo courtroom.

Kema Sr. was taken in custody earlier Thursday for a separate traffic violation. His bail was set at $500,000.

Jaylin Kema was brought into custody at around 5:30 p.m. Her bail was set at $150,000, because officials said she was considered an accomplice.

According to the indictments, they:

“did intentionally or knowingly cause the death of P.K.JR.; and/or…

did intentionally or knowingly cause the death of P.K.JR., by voluntarily omitting to perform a duty imposed by law, to wit: the duty to support P.K.JR., including the duty to obtain reasonably necessary and available medical services…

and also a person who was at the scene of multiple crimes of assault upon P.K.JR., and [parent], who knew that P.K.JR., was suffering from serious physical harm as a result of the assaults, intentionally or knowingly caused the death of P.K.JR, by voluntarily omitting to perform a duty imposed by law, to wit: the duty to obtain or attempt to obtain aid from law enforcement and/or medical personnel, when [parent], could do so without danger or peril to any person…”

“It is a day we’ve been waiting for a long time, and we’re happy to bring justice to the family,” said Hawaii County prosecutor Mitch Roth. “On Sunday, May 1, Peter Boy Jr. would have had his 25th birthday, so it’s been a long time coming.”

Jaylin (left) and Peter Kema Sr. were brought into custody Thursday.
Jaylin (left) and Peter Kema Sr. were brought into custody Thursday.

Peter Kema Jr. has been missing since 1997. He was six years old at the time.

His parents had been the prime suspects in the case for years, but prosecutors said there was never enough evidence to charge them, until now.

Prosecutors reopened the case in 2014 and took it to a grand jury on Wednesday, which led to the indictment.

We’re told there was key testimony from other family members, including Peter Boy’s siblings, who have told KHON2 in the past that they were abused by their parents and witnessed Peter Boy getting abused as well.

“We’re not going to get into the facts today, because we want to try this case in the court versus in the media, but it is a very important case and we’re quite pleased with the work the police department did, our deputy prosecutors, our victim witnesses, our staff, the other agencies that played a role, other witnesses that came forward to help us,” Roth said. “This was not just a one-office endeavor. This was a partnership of many different people working together, collaborating to make this day happen.”

As for what was done differently this time around, deputy prosecutor Ricky Roy Damerville says a fresh perspective was key.

“We assigned a team of ‘blind mules’ to plow the ground,” Damerville said. “(They) looked at everything all over again, didn’t assume anything, just went and looked at everything that had been done and we decided now’s the time.”

Peter Boy went missing on Hawaii Island in 1997.
1997: Peter Boy went missing on Hawaii Island. 1998: His mother filed a missing person’s report at the urging of social workers and police, though his parents maintained he was with relatives. 2005: The state Department of Human Services released 2,000 pages of confidential documents in which Peter Boy’s sister told a doctor she saw her brother dead in a box in her parents’ closet, and that they took the box to Honolulu. 2014: The case was reopened.

“The information has been consistent all this time, from when the onset of the investigation when previous investigators spoke to the family,” said Lt. Greg Esteban, Hawaii Police Department.

“Is there even a chance of finding his body at this point?” KHON2 asked.

“I say never say never,” he replied. “As a result of this information, the indictments that are handed out, we are hopeful that some information will be disclosed.”

It’s the prosecutors’ burden to prove, without a reasonable doubt, that “Peter Boy” was murdered by his parents. But without his body, they’re missing a key piece of evidence.

University of Hawaii law professor Ken Lawson says getting a confession is key.

“If they have statements from parents admitting their guilt it’s not difficult at all,” Lawson said. “If they have physical evidence, it will help, but if there is no physical evidence and no statements from the parents, it could be difficult. These are not easy cases.”

Prosecutors say an arrest last November helped. Jaylin Kema was charged with second-degree theft in a welfare fraud case.

“Our job is to make sure that we have proof beyond a reasonable doubt and we have to have an ethical belief that we can prove it, and we are getting very close to that point right now,” Roth told KHON2 when the case was reopened. “We want to make sure we do it right. We want to get it right the first time, because we only get one shot.”

There is history of getting a murder conviction without the victim’s body. In 2008, Kirk Lankford was convicted of murdering Japanese national Masumi Watanabe. To this day, her body has never been found.

The Kema residence on Hawaii island
The Kema residence on Hawaii island

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