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Haiku man sentenced to 10 years in prison for sexual assault of two girls

Judge reluctantly agrees to plea deal

Ariel Harshner

The Maui News

WAILUKU — With a deputy prosecutor saying a Haiku property “haunts the memories” of two girls who were subjected to sex acts there, a man was sentenced Friday to a 10-year prison term for sexually assaulting the girls.

While following a plea agreement in imposing the sentence on Ariel Harshner, 36, of Haiku, 2nd Circuit Judge Richard

Bissen said, “It’s taking everything I have not to change this.”

“It’s the court’s hope that you serve every single day of that 10-year sentence and not be released early. You don’t deserve that,” Bissen told Harshner. “I hope you’re true to your words that you want to get better, you want to figure out why you did this and you will not do this again.”

Harshner had pleaded no contest to four reduced counts of second-degree sexual assault for offenses occurring from August 2006 to September 2014, according to court records.

Harshner “groomed” one girl, who is a family member, to think that a sexual relationship with him was normal, said Deputy Prosecutor Iwalani Gasmen. She said that the girl was subjected to sexual acts beginning at age 5 until she was 13.

At times, Harshner wouldn’t let the girl go to school, Gasmen said. “The defendant would not only use these times to perform the sexual acts, but he would drug her as well,” Gasmen said.

She said Harshner became jealous when the girl dated boys.

Harshner also sexually assaulted another girl, who was 10 years old, on the same Haiku property, Gasmen said. She said that the location “haunts the memories of both these children.”

“The defendant has caused so much psychological damage to both of these girls that it’s amazing how they managed to live their daily lives,” Gasmen said. 

She described as “truly astonishing” a letter to the court from Harshner’s mother that blamed one of the girls and the girl’s mother and referred to “a sophisticated revenge plot to place the defendant in jail.”

“The defendant is here today because of his own actions, not because of what clothes a 10-and-a-half-year-old child decides to wear on any given day,” Gasmen said. 

She said that one girl couldn’t be in court Friday after “going into an emotional tailspin after testifying at the grand jury.”

The other girl, who was in court with her mother, said she didn’t want to see Harshner or his mother again.

Defense attorney Matthew Padgett said Harshner agreed to the 10-year prison term as part of the plea agreement.

“He’s owned up to his actions,” Padgett said. “Now he’s prepared to pay the punishment, pay the price. He wants to move on. He wants to get appropriate treatment while he’s in prison. 

“It’s a tragic situation. He understands he played a major role.” 

In sentencing Harshner, Bissen said, “I’m not sure if the defendant played a major role or if the defendant was the sole cause of this. I think the defendant accepted this plea because he’d rather do 10 years than 20.”

“The defendant is clearly a selfish person who’s only concerned with his own needs or his own gratification,” Bissen said. “I think that’s obvious. I don’t think he cared who he hurt or how he hurt as long as he got what he wanted.” 

Bissen said Harshner appeared to be bothered most by being embarrassed.

“The defendant’s biggest fear was being exposed for who he really is,” Bissen said. “Obviously, he’s not able to be honest with those closest to him — his family.” 

Bissen said that “through counseling and support of caring adults,” he believed the girls would go on and be successful.

“They are survivors,” Bissen said. “They will do well. They will prosper.  

“They will thrive despite what you did to them, in spite of you not because of you,” Bissen told Harshner.

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