Kahului man gets life in prison

Keoni Tomas pleaded no contest to two counts of murder — his mother and aunt

Keoni Tomas

WAILUKU — For the “horrific” and “tragic” murders of his aunt and his mother just months apart, a Kahului man was sentenced Friday to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Keoni Vinuya Tomas, 27, had pleaded no contest to two counts of second-degree murder of the two women, both of whom were stabbed repeatedly in 2015.

“These are horrific facts,” said Deputy Prosecutor Carson Tani. “It’s very hard to get a grasp on what would drive this defendant to kill in this manner.”

He said Tomas’ aunt, 61-year-old Gail Otsuka, was stabbed in her head, neck, arms and upper torso on Jan. 2, 2015, in her bedroom at her residence on Molokai Akau Street in Kahului.

An autopsy showed she was stabbed 26 times in her head, two times in her neck and 18 times in her upper torso, Tani said. In addition, he said a laceration went from her left of her lip to her left eye, severing the left side of her nose. Her left lung collapsed from a stab wound in her shoulder, Tani said.

Keoni Vinuya Tomas, appearing in 2nd Circuit Court on Friday, is sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole for the murders of his aunt and mother. -- The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

“None of the wounds were actually fatal by themselves,” Tani said. “The cause of death was bleeding to death.”

While he hoped Otsuka was unconscious when she bled to death, Tani said he suspected she suffered before she died.

Tomas was arrested in connection with his aunt’s murder but was released pending further investigation, including DNA analysis of evidence found at the crime scene, police said.

About two months later, on March 9, 2015, Tomas’ mother, 43-year-old Kimberly Vinuya, suffered “very similar” injuries, including numerous stab wounds to her head, neck, upper torso, back, shoulder and arms, Tani said.

“In that case, we know for a fact she suffered, just from the statements of the neighbors who heard the mother moaning and crying out in pain for approximately 15 to 20 minutes,” Tani said.

She was found lying on the floor in a shack on family property on Makalii Street in Kahului where she and Tomas were living. Police reported the tip of a knife was found in her skull.

Tomas declined to speak in court Friday.

Defense attorney Ben Summit explained Tomas’ decision not to speak, saying, “I think he’s overwhelmed by the murder charges.

“It’s difficult for him to comprehend what’s going on.” Summit said. “He does not seem to remember what happened.”

For a few months after he was charged with the murders, Summit said, Tomas would repeatedly ask why he was incarcerated.

“So I would explain to him that his mother was dead, and he was accused of killing her,” Summit said. “It seemed like he completely collapsed in on himself. It essentially utterly devastated him. His grieving would begin all over again from ground zero every time we talked about that.”

Mental health evaluations determined that Tomas was fit to proceed in his cases, but contained references to schizophrenia, Summit said.

He said Tomas has modest intellectual capacity and reported hearing voices beginning at a young age, probably from early onset schizophrenia. That was exacerbated by Tomas’ methamphetamine use, Summit said.

“This should be a cautionary tale for our community and our society as well,” Summit said. “It should warn us of the dangers of methamphetamine use.”

In the two-and-a-half years since the “absolutely horrific, tragic case happened,” Tomas has recovered from extreme methamphetamine intoxication, said defense attorney Cary Virtue, who also represented the defendant.

“He has flashbacks as to what he did,” Virtue said. “He’s had more of them as time has gone by. He’s dealing with some of these flashbacks and understanding what he did to his mother, his aunty.”

Tomas remains in contact with his grandmother, who is like a mother to him, Virtue said.

“I think she played a part in having Keoni take responsibility for having killed his mother, killed his aunty,” Virtue said.

While incarcerated, Tomas will continue taking his mental health medications and will seek counseling and treatment for his drug addiction, Virtue said.

“There is hope for Keoni,” Virtue said.

Second Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza followed a plea agreement in sentencing Tomas to concurrent sentences of life in prison with the possibility of parole.

He also was sentenced to a one-year jail term for third-degree theft in another case.

“This, undoubtedly, is an extremely violent and tragic series of events,” Cardoza said. “It’s difficult to put into words any way of adequately reconciling all of this in terms of the conduct, the violence and the results.”

Tomas was ordered to pay $6,297 in restitution.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.