Father receives probation in child starvation death

  • SHAELYNN LEHANO-STONE

A 53-year-old Hilo man was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years of probation for his role in starving his 9-year-old daughter to death in 2016.

Kevin Lehano faced a possible 20 years in prison when he was sentenced by Hilo Circuit Judge Peter Kubota.

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Lehano was originally charged with second-degree murder for the June 28, 2016, death of Shaelynn Lehano-Stone, but in a deal with prosecutors, pleaded no contest to manslaughter on April 28.

Lehano, who appeared via Zoom from Hawaii Community Correctional Center because of a COVID-19 cluster there, will serve no further jail time because he has spent almost four years in pretrial custody — almost twice the maximum two-year jail term in a probation sentence.

Tiffany Stone, Lehano’s 37-year-old wife, and Henrietta Stone, the child’s 63-year-old maternal grandmother, were originally charged with second-degree murder in the death of the developmentally-disabled child.

Tiffany Stone was sentenced by Hilo Circuit Judge Henry Nakamoto to 10 years probation on March 22 after pleading no contest to a reduced charge of manslaughter in her daughter’s death. She sat in the back row of the courtroom gallery during Lehano’s sentencing.

Henrietta Stone has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and has a hearing scheduled for Friday on a court-ordered mental examination. She remains in HCCC in lieu of $100,000 bail.

The child had been removed from Hilo Union Elementary School by Henrietta Stone, her legal guardian, to be home-schooled. A call to 911 by Lehano brought first responders to Henrietta Stone’s apartment directly across from Hilo’s central fire station on Kinoole Street on June 28, 2016.

There, they found the unconscious and unresponsive girl, who died later that day.

The child had been on Child Welfare Services radar since birth and was in foster care four times before her grandmother was awarded custody. Her two siblings, who also were in the CWS system, are now in adoptive homes.

Deputy Prosecutor Suzanna Tiapula argued for a 20-year prison sentence for Lehano, telling the judge, “The voice you will not hear in the courtroom today, Your Honor, is the voice of the child who died.”

“She weighed, at 9, what she had weighed when she was 4 years old,” Tiapula said. “… She died of malnutrition in a house with three refrigerators. Each of those refrigerators contained food. The refrigerators in that home, Your Honor, had alarms on them so she couldn’t access that food.”

Tiapula said Lehano “had been counseled by medical and social-work professionals on many occasions to feed his daughter and not to withhold food.”

“And yet, he admitted in his statement to law enforcement that he had installed the alarms on each of the refrigerators that kept his child from getting food, and that created a pattern of control and withholding that ultimately led to the death of this 9-year-old,” she said.

Tiapula asked the judge “to imagine a world where this child could walk into the courtroom and speak to the neglect and abuse, to the experience of being starved to death in a house with food where other people ate.”

In requesting a probation sentence, Deputy Public Defender Sherilyn Tavares noted Lehano’s 1,448 days of incarceration since being charged and asked, “Are we here for justice or are we here for revenge?”

She said Lehano is being sentenced “for being the non-participatory defendant, the detached father.”

“He didn’t just sit at home and participate in the terror of the children,” Tavares told the judge. “Two full-time jobs, day and night, both of which he held in excess of 10 years at the time of his arrest, demonstrating his commitment, his ability and his determination to do what he thought … was his role in this family.”

She added that Lehano, on his days off “did errands” and his actions were “what he thought was love” for the family.

Tavares said Lehano installed the alarms on the refrigerator because “Henrietta asked him to do that.”

“And on that fateful day when he got the phone call as he was on his way to his second job, he acted in a way that any responsible parent would act,” Tavares said. “He called for help. He is the one who called 911. When he showed up at the home, there were three adults in the house — a house located right across the central fire station. Not one of those individuals called 911. No one walked across the street to get help.”

Describing Lehano as “deserving of this opportunity,” Tavares said he “is not a danger to the community and he was never a danger to this family.”

Asked if he wished to speak, Lehano said he let his attorney “speak for myself, but I do thank you, Your Honor for the opportunity that you extended to me to speak freely to the court.”

While passing sentence, Kubota told Lehano the history of the case contained “so many safeguards that were warning signs as with ‘Peter Boy’ Kema … that failed to protect your daughter, and she’s the one that paid the price.”

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“The only thing we can take out of this is we have to believe that she’s in a better place than her life on Earth was with you and your wife and your mother-in-law as her grandmother,” the judge said.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.