A Puna woman was sentenced to serve up to a quarter-century behind bars for the 2018 Halloween killing of a 6-year-old boy at a Kealakehe apartment complex.
Ashley Nihipali, who pleaded guilty in September to manslaughter for the death of Mazen Kaniela Nihipali-Moniz and three counts of felony abuse of a family or household member in the presence of minor under age 14, was sentenced to the maximum penalty of 20 years incarceration for the manslaughter charge and consecutive terms of five years for the abuse charges.
“It is the maximum I can give,” said Kona Circuit Court Judge Robert D.S. Kim on Friday during the sentencing hearing. “I am giving you the maximum because it is what you deserve.”
In exchange for her plea, the state agreed to drop one count of second-degree murder as principal and/or accomplice; three counts second-degree felony abuse of a family or household member as principal and/or accomplice; first-degree hindering prosecution as principal and/or accomplice; tampering with evidence as principal and/or accomplice; and two counts first-degree terroristic threatening as principal and/or accomplice.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chase Murray said Nihipali-Moniz and the four other children under the care of Ashley and Kuuipo Nihipali suffered a series of abuses since moving in with them. Kuuipo Nihipali was also charged in connection with the incident.
“They were beaten, choked and burned with hot water,” said Murray.
The prosecutor outlined the day, Oct. 31, 2018, explaining that earlier, Mazen had removed a Lego piece from a book at school and Ashley went too far when she was notified. He said Ashley beat Mazen and choked him against the wall.
“Eventually he stopped breathing,” Murray said. “The autopsy showed body bruising, signs of strangulation and bleeding from the liver. Mazen doesn’t get to have a life. Nothing will bring him back and nothing will take back the trauma to the siblings.”
Murray said Kuuipo and Ashley came up with a story and told the children to lie about what they witnessed. However, the children, later in interviews, revealed the truth.
In June, Kuuipo agreed to testify against Ashley. In September, Ashley changed her plea to the lesser-included charge of manslaughter and three counts of abuse of family or household member.
Ashley’s attorney, Andrew Kennedy admitted it was a tragic crime.
“Ashley didn’t want Mazen to die. She didn’t act appropriately. It was a reckless act,” he said.
Kennedy went on to say Ashley was a victim of child abuse as well, being ill equipped to handle the five children that were given to her and Kuuipo. Kuuipo’s parents had adopted the children and subsequently placed them in the care of the couple.
“There are circumstances that led to this,” he said.
In her statement, Ashley apologized to her in-laws saying she was sorry for the pain she caused the family.
Kim addressed Ashley before he handed down the sentence.
“This is a horrible case of abuse and torture,” he said. “You took away everything he had and what he ever would have. He was only 6 years old.”
Kim said he read all of the reports and the children lived in “a house of horrors.”
“And you tried to cover it up and made the children lie,” he said. “I cannot and will not condone your actions.”
A day before, on Thursday, Kuuipo Nihipali changed her plea to guilty of three counts of abuse of a family or household member and one count of hindering prosecution. The state dismissed the remaining eight charges. Her sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 22, 2021. She remains free on supervised release.
The two defendants were charged in connection with the death of Nihipali-Moniz on Halloween 2018, and abusing him and his siblings for months prior at the Lailani Apartment complex in Kealakehe.
Nihipali-Moniz was pronounced dead about 5:30 p.m. Oct. 31, 2018, after being taken by medics from the Kailua Fire Station to Kona Community Hospital. The 6-year-old was brought unconscious by a family member to the fire station.
Police said the child was reportedly involved in an “incident” and been found unconscious at the Lailani Apartment complex on Manawalea Street. The child’s death was ruled a homicide after autopsy results revealed the cause of death involved trauma.
Anyone who suspects that someone is abusing or neglecting a child, should call the toll-free statewide Child Abuse and Neglect reporting line at(888) 380-3088. Reports can be filed anonymously.