KAILUA-KONA — Honolulu prosecutors are now handling the case of an 18-year-old man accused of sexually assaulting a 78-year-old woman last month at a county campground in South Kohala.
Zeth Robert Browder, 18, of no permanent address, was indicted Monday by a Kona grand jury on seven counts stemming from the June 15 incident at Spencer Beach Park, a Hawaii County facility.
The indictment, brought by the City and County of Honolulu Department of the Prosecuting Attorney, charges Browder with two counts each first-degree sexual assault and third-degree sexual assault and one count each first-degree burglary, kidnapping and tampering with evidence. A $166,000 bench warrant was issued.
The indictment also notifies the court of their intent to seek extended prison terms, if Browder’s convicted of two or more of the felonies filed.
“It’s the nature and facts of this case that show that, we believe, this defendant poses a danger to the victim and community,” said the department’s spokesman, Brooks Baehr.
Hawaii County Prosecuting Attorney Mitch Roth said Thursday that his office determined it would be a conflict of interest to prosecute and forwarded the case to the Attorney General’s Office in Honolulu, which assigned it to the Honolulu office.
“We wanted to avoid any appearance of impropriety,” Roth said, but declined to elaborate.
The charges stem from a sex assault reported to Hawaii Police about 6 a.m. June 15 after South Kohala patrol officers responded to the Kawaihae campground. The victim told officers that she had been sexually assaulted by a man who was also camping in the area. However, the parties were not camping together.
Police said after taking the report, officers located and took Browder into custody while the investigation continued. He was charged the following day with five counts first-degree sexual assault; three counts first-degree terroristic threatening; three counts third-degree sexual assault; burglary, assault, kidnapping and tampering with physical evidence.
The teen made his initial appearance in District Court on June 17 during which Judge Margaret Masunaga ordered a mental fitness exam at the request of Browder’s counsel and maintained bail at $227,000, which he has since been unable to post. A July 16 court date was set for the judge to rule on Browder’s fitness, but is moot as the case is now being heard in Circuit Court.
First-degree sexual assault and kidnapping are class A felonies punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment; first-degree burglary is a class B felony that carries a 10-year sentence; and third-degree sexual assault in a class C felony punishable by five years behind bars. Evidence tampering is a misdemeanor offense
Because prosecutors intend to seek enhanced sentencing measures if Browder is convicted of two or more the felony counts he faces longer terms behind bars. Such enhancement would mean a life sentence with the possibility of parole for the class A felonies and double the time behind bars for the class B and C felonies.