WHT Editorial: Charges in rape case fill in a lot of blanks

After 15 months of questions, we’re pleased to be able to finally fill in some blanks.

Hawaii County prosecutors have charged a 17-year-old boy as an adult in the reported rape of a woman at Old Kona Airport Park in September 2016, a huge step forward after a lengthy investigation.

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Tyron Sigrah was officially charged on Nov. 24 and has since pleaded not guilty in 3rd Circuit Court to multiple felony counts.

Sigrah faces four class A felonies, three class C felonies and one class B felony. According to Hawaii Revised Statutes, a class A felony carries a punishment of an indeterminate term of imprisonment of 20 years without the possibility of suspension of sentence or probation.

Those charges — more than a year after police made an initial arrest but released a suspect a short time later pending further investigation — match in severity the viciousness of the reported attack itself.

At 8:35 p.m. on Sept. 3, 2016, Hawaii police say, two boys allegedly approached a woman, punched and sexually assaulted her before reportedly fleeing when confronted by an unidentified person.

Rumors around the community and other sources who shall remain anonymous described it even more harshly. It was an act of savage brutality.

About a month after the alleged incident, residents gathered on Queen Kaahumanu Highway to wave signs to raise awareness about the reported sexual assault and other issues in the community, as well as to protest what appeared to be inaction in the police investigation. Those who took part in the event and knew the victim described her as a sweet woman and a talented musician.

Tensions were heightened because the suspect or suspects were walking free as the investigation was underway.

Additionally, at least one of them was a Kealakehe High School student, the school eventually confirmed to West Hawaii Today, although it couldn’t say back in September if that suspect still attended the school. Sigrah, it should be pointed out, attended Kealakehe High School, according to his Facebook profile.

Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, so this isn’t a verdict, but the charges act as something tangible the community can grasp — those who have been following this story whose details have been murky until now.

And that’s a big step forward.

We know investigations take time. Every stone must be turned for thoroughness’ sake, so by no means are we questioning the tenacity of the investigators. We also know information can’t be shared when it comes to juveniles, so everyone who was involved in the case, from the cops to the courts, was tight-lipped for ethically and lawfully sound reasons.

But — and we say this as humbly as possible — bird-dog reporting could have played a role in where we are today.

As weeks stretched into months, the investigation wasn’t ever too far from WHT’s mind.

Reporters repeatedly talked to police, attorneys, parents, school officials and documented the investigation’s testing timeline for DNA and forensics. In August and September, WHT wrote multiple stories on the progress of the investigation as the attack neared and then passed its one year anniversary. Those articles said charges hadn’t been filed and detailed the reasons why officials couldn’t share any information on the minor suspect or suspects.

It was something too serious to let go.

And it was around August or September, Deputy Prosecutor Sheri Lawson said last week, that the case was filed in juvenile court, after which she filed paperwork to move the case to Circuit Court, where Sigrah will be tried as an adult.

If public reporting didn’t play a role in where we are today, it certainly didn’t hamper it.

But that’s all then.

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Now, it’s time for justice to work its course.

We only hope that course helps lead the victim to peace and closure.