In two months, the murder trial of Peter Kema Sr. will begin in a Hilo courtroom.
He’s charged with killing his son, Peter Kema Jr., a.k.a. “Peter Boy.”
Peter Boy was six years old when he disappeared on Hawaii Island in 1997.
In part two of our exclusive series, Kathy Muneno sits down with Hawaii County deputy prosecutor Ricky Roy Damerville, who helped bring an indictment in the case. (View part one here.)
He says he has utmost confidence in the circumstantial evidence on which this case is built. He cites other such cases that have been successful.
Yet, for closure, will Peter Boy ever be found?
“We’re going to need some luck, I think, but I’m still hopeful,” Damerville replied. “I think that we will, at some point, find Peter Boy. Not alive, but I think at some point we will.
“It may be after the trial. It may not be during the trial,” he added. “Certainly, we’re not relying on finding it during the trial, but I think we’re going to do our best to find some closure for the siblings.”
The state’s case against Peter Kema Sr. doesn’t rely on finding Peter Boy.
But in court last December, Damerville told a judge that the state will prove Peter Boy died of septic shock, which is often caused by a severe infection and can be fatal if not treated.
Also in court that day, Jaylin Kema admitted she did not seek medical treatment for her son. It was part of her agreement to plead guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter and testify against her husband.
“We hope she cooperates,” Damerville said. “She said she’s going to cooperate. We believe she’s going to cooperate, but if for some reason she changes her mind, we’d still be ready to go. When we indicted this case, we did it on the assumption that both of them would go through to trial and we would try both of them. We didn’t anticipate or gamble that any one of them would turn state’s evidence or anything like that.”
KHON2 asked Damerville, why do you think Jaylin decided to speak against her husband?
“I think if you watched her closely, she had great regrets,” he said. “I don’t think it was motivated by anything other than great sorrow and great regret.”
Damerville says her sentence was likely not a motivating factor: one year in prison and 10 years probation.
“People look at a plea agreement and they say, ‘Ten years probation. Shoot, I can do 10 years probation.’ Really? Want to try it?” he said. “I’ll withhold judgement myself until after the case is over, and then we can have this discussion again.”
KHON2 asked Damerville, does Jaylin know where he is?
“That’s kind of a supposition that I don’t go there,” he replied. “The dynamics of child abuse and spouse abuse are very complex. They’re very complex, and it’s not always a matter of what one person knows, certainly the other person necessarily knows. That’s not always there.”
Jaylin Kema has been in custody since her arrest, so that one year in prison in the plea agreement ends April 27, two days after her husband’s trial is supposed to begin.
“I have been doing criminal law now for more than 35 years, and the greatest challenge is always the same one. Are my witnesses going to show up?” Damerville said.
Witnesses are key to a case so reliant on circumstantial evidence, yet even after the trial, if need be, the search for Peter Boy will never end.
Peter Kema Sr. is represented by a court-appointed private attorney, Stanton Oshiro.
The public defender’s office cited a conflict of interest as some people who were interviewed for this case over the years were at one time or another represented by public defenders.