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Old A student rape case leaves lots unanswered

Updated: 
September 16, 2017 - 9:20pm

For what little details are available, there’s a lot to be uneasy over.

The Hawaii County Prosecutor’s Office explained this week why it can’t tell the public if or when charges will be filed against at least one teenage suspect accused of sexually assaulting a woman last year at Old Airport Park.

The primary suspect is a male who was a 15-year-old student at Kealakehe High School at the time of the Sept. 3, 2016, attack.

The teenager was arrested shortly after the incident, then released pending investigation. Another boy was deemed a person of interest, but not arrested. Police turned over their investigation — which included DNA test results — to prosecutors at the end of March.

For all we know, charges could already be filed. We just don’t know.

We don’t know because the suspects are minors and, basically, the nature of the attack wasn’t severe enough, at least according to Hawaii statutes, to catapult it to adult-like status where court files become public.

There is a state law that makes proceedings and records in juvenile cases open if they meet specific requirements.

According to statute 571-84.6, a minor age 14 or older, has to have been adjudicated — judged in juvenile court — for murder in the first or second degree, attempted murder in the first degree, a class A felony, or caused serious bodily injury or death to a victim.

The statute also allows records to be public if a minor 16 years old or older has been taken into custody for committing murder in the first or second degree, attempted murder in the first degree or caused “serious” bodily injury or death to a victim.

Serious is in quotes above because it’s the lynch pin why the public — and that means Kealakehe students and their parents — won’t know anything about the boy’s case.

Police said doctors ruled the victim’s bodily injuries as “substantial,” not “serious.”

A police description of the 8:35 p.m. attack said the two boys allegedly approached the woman, punched and sexually assaulted her before fleeing after they were confronted by an unidentified person.

We’ll be the first to admit we don’t have a medical degree, nor do we craft statutes or legal definitions, but let’s step away slightly from syntax and minutia for a moment.

At the risk of oversimplifying, in the hierarchy of terrible crimes, we’d put murder and all its subsets as 1A and rape as a somewhat close 1B. Everything else falls below. It’s not a legal definition, we get that, but a pretty solid layman’s version.

“As far as what we can disclose, we have to follow the law,” Roth told the newspaper after a reporter asked his office for information and for the specific reason why that information wasn’t available after it was denied. “It’s not that we don’t want to give this information out. We don’t want to jeopardize cases or violate our own rules.”

We believe Roth. And Roth is right, by the letter of the law, which is unsettling in this instance.

We only hope that the investigation is including the victim’s well-being today as part of her injuries. Her life will never be the same and the anxiety and post traumatic stress from which she undoubtedly suffers should be given heavy consideration.

So here we are, in the dark, along with, shockingly, Kealakehe High School.

Art Souza, Hawaii Department of Education superintendent of the Honokaa-Kealakehe-Kohala-Konawaena complex area, confirmed to West Hawaii Today recently that the main suspect was a student at the school at the time of the attack.

But — and here’s where we’re dumbfounded — he didn’t know if the suspect or suspects still were students at the school.

Kealakehe High School Principal Wilfred Murakami was even more in the dark.

He said he wasn’t made aware of who the two teens were at the time of the assault and learned of their attendance at the school through rumors, and, when contacted by a reporter, didn’t know if they were still students there, either.

These admissions are deeply troubling — all the more so for parents of Kealakehe students. Yes, suspects are innocent until proven otherwise, and students are entitled to public education, even those with investigations looming above them. But even if the judicial system can’t share their names publicly, the fact that there is year-long police investigation is a key piece of information on its own.

It’s one parents deserve to know. It’s pertinent information parents should use to tell their Kealakehe daughters to be aware, perhaps change routines, such as avoid walking home alone in the evening after practice.

As far as we can tell, school leaders haven’t told parents this school year because they don’t know.

Mums the word on investigations in general, especially with minors, that much we’re certain. But what we’re left with here, based on what authority figures are telling us on the record, is that school administration doesn’t know if it has a suspected rapist or rapists in their hallways, even after a lengthy investigation that, according to the school’s principal, didn’t involve contacting him.

And so we all just wait. For what, we’re not sure. All we know is there are way too many holes and an uneasy feeling as we try and fill them.

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