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Measure seeks to try teens as adults

January 30, 2009
The Maui News

HONOLULU (AP) - Teens who are at least 15 years old would be tried as adults in murder cases under legislation pending before Hawaii lawmakers.

The bill, known as ''Karen's Law,'' is named after Karen Ertell, an Ewa Beach, Oahu, woman who was allegedly raped and murdered by her then 15-year-old neighbor in May 2007.

A police affidavit says Vernon Bartley admitted planning the killing and acted alone.

But he still hasn't gone to trial, in part because of the 13-month process it took for a Family Court judge to allow Bartley to be tried as an adult. Adult prosecutions come with much stiffer penalties.

''It was torture to have to wait for so long to see if he would be tried as a juvenile or tried as an adult,'' said Malanie McLellan, Ertell's daughter. ''It was a big waste of time. It really prolongs the grieving process, uselessly.''

Under the measure, first- and second-degree murder cases would bypass Family Court and move directly to an adult criminal proceeding.

Additional hearings and long delays before trials make victims' families suffer while they wait for justice, said Rep. Kymberly Pine, R-Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point.

''It's really cruel and unusual punishment for the family,'' Pine said. ''The thought, for my constituents, that he had a chance, despite how brutal the crime was, that our current system might let him out in a few years, it terrified them. They felt a sense of injustice.''

Ertell, 51, the owner of Koko Crater Coffee Roasters, had been scheduled to testify against Bartley in a burglary case.

Bartley's trial is scheduled for March.

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu, said he wants the bill to be amended so it's limited to first-degree, premeditated murder and includes a psychiatric evaluation.

''I'm open to having discussions on this bill,'' said Karamatsu, D-Waipahu-Waikele.

The measure has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.

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