Delays, court backlog kept Aikau’s criminal abuse case from going to trial

We’re taking a closer look at a criminal abuse case involving Gerald Aikau.

It’s a case that never made it to trial.

On Tuesday, the 42-year-old Pauoa man took the life of his 7-year-old son, Reef, before killing himself.

Court documents show the case had been held up several times. We wanted to know why.

Honolulu’s prosecuting attorney says when it comes to rescheduling court appearances and setting a trial date, there are many reasons, but ultimately the court makes the decision.

“There are a lot of reasons why the courts do that: one, to make sure that the defense is prepared and ready to go to trial instead of forcing them to go to trial,” said city prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro.

Aikau’s criminal abuse case was opened in November 2016, and his trial date was rescheduled three times.

In December, records show that Aikau was accepted into a drug program and needed to reschedule. In April 2017, his defense team was not ready, so another date was set for May.

At that time, the court was backlogged and Reef Aikau’s mother hoped to take him on an international trip in the summer, so both parties decided to return in August.

But by then, it would be too late.

“There’s no indication that the family wanted resources for protection. You know, we have a safe house if any of the victims feel threatened,” said Kaneshiro. “That’s one of the problems with domestic violence cases. Because it’s emotional, it’s unpredictable, you don’t know when violence will occur.”

Kaneshiro says they’re looking at different ways to resolve domestic cases faster.

“We need more courtrooms. We need more judges to handle it. The judges that we have that can handle it, let’s put it this way. We need to make better use of the courtrooms that are available,” Kaneshiro said.

Nanci Kreidman, CEO of the Domestic Violence Action Center, agrees.

“The Judiciary had made requests to the legislature for funding to provide more judges for the courts. If court congestion is a problem, we have to rise to meet that need,” said Kreidman.

It’s a need that could have tragic consequences if unfulfilled.

“One of the things we always say is it’s important to deliver a strong message to perpetrators to expect accountability by the system, and if the criminal case cannot be disposed of and accountability cannot be reached, then the perpetrators walk free,” said Kreidman.

We asked the Hawaii State Judiciary about courts being backlogged and got a statement saying it prioritizes cases based on the length of time it’s been in the system, and they can only fit so many in each week.

On Monday, the court reviews its cases and determines that a certain number are ready for trial. The oldest case is called primary and ready for trial on Tuesday.

The others, called backups, and also need to be ready to proceed in case the primary case is no longer ready.

On Tuesday, the judge checks on the primary case to ensure the jury, attorneys, witnesses, etc. are ready to go. If they are, then the backups become continued cases due to “court congestion.”

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