HILO — A bill introduced by two Hawaii Island state senators that would repeal the 10-year statute of limitations on all manslaughter cases except for vehicular manslaughter passed its first reading by the full senate Monday.
Senate Bill 2322, known as the “Peter Boy Kema Act,” was introduced by Sens. Kai Kahele and Lorraine Inouye.
Other senators signing the original version of the bill are Stanley Chang, Donovan Dela Cruz, Brickwood Galuteria, Michelle Kidani, Donna Mercado Kim, Maile Shimabukuro and Glenn Wakai, all of Oahu.
The measure is named for Peter Kema Jr., aka “Peter Boy,” the 6-year-old Big Island boy who died in 1997 after suffering chronic abuse at the hands of his parents.
Peter Kema Sr. and Jaylin Kema, the boy’s parents, withheld the circumstances of his death from authorities for almost two decades, saying he had been taken to Oahu as a hanai to an “Aunty Rose Makuakane.” The couple has since been convicted of manslaughter, but only because of plea agreements they made that waived the statute of limitations on manslaughter.
“One of the reasons we named it the Peter Boy Kema Act is that it brings attention to something that is really important — protecting children who aren’t being protected by the system as it is currently, today,” Kahele said Monday.
According to Kahele, the bill came about as a result of conversations with county Prosecutor Mitch Roth.
“His office identified this potential loophole in our existing criminal justice system in regards to the statute of limitations on manslaughter,” he explained. “Hopefully this will help bring some closure to (Peter Boy’s) brother and sisters and his family members.”
The bill is intended to keep criminal defendants in cold-case murder prosecutions from being set free on a statute-of-limitations expiration if a jury finds the defendant guilty of manslaughter instead of murder. There is no statute of limitations for murder.
“What a lot of people didn’t realize about Peter Boy is a jury could’ve come back and said (the boy’s killing) was reckless instead of intentional or knowing, and (Kema Sr.) may have walked if the defense didn’t waive,” Roth said.
No committee hearings have yet been scheduled, but Kahele thinks “the bill has a good chance.”
“It’s the beginning of the legislative session, and we have a long way to go,” he said. “But what this will do is force the conversation. We’ll be able to debate in committee. The community can weigh in. I hope the community weighs in.
“I think it’s a good start.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.