The 19-year-old disappearance of a 6-year-old Big Island boy, who would have turned 25 on Sunday had he lived, will finally be adjudicated.
The parents of Peter “Peter Boy” Kema Jr. were indicted Thursday in the murder of their son and are scheduled to make their initial court appearance today in a Hilo courtroom.
A grand jury Thursday indicted Peter Kema Sr., 45, and Jaylin Kema, 46, each on a charge of second-degree murder.
Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth, who made the Kema case part of his campaign platform, said he was pleased to announce the indictment, and praised the efforts of the Hawaii County Police Department, investigators with the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney and many others involved in those agencies and others.
“This case has been a hot topic throughout the entire state, and it’s gone through many investigators, many of whom have since retired,” said Hawaii County police Lt. Greg Esteban, commander of the Criminal Investigation Division in Hilo. “The motivation behind keeping this case going was simply because we needed to give Peter Boy a voice.”
Police arrested Peter Kema at about 3 p.m. Thursday on an unrelated traffic violation, and he was arrested on the murder charge while in police custody at 5:31 p.m. His bail was set at $500,000 for the murder charge and $500 for driving without a license.
Jaylin Kema was arrested at 5:14 p.m. on Silva Street in Hilo, police said. Her bail was set at $150,000.
They are being held at the Hilo police cellblock.
The case of “Peter Boy” Kema, who disappeared in 1997 at age 6, was initially classified as a missing-person case, but both parents came under scrutiny by police and the public.
At that time, Peter Kema told authorities that while he was looking for a job on Oahu in the summer of 1997, he gave the boy to a longtime family friend, Auntie Rose Makuakane, to care for him, but her existence could never be substantiated.
Jaylin Kema didn’t file a missing-person report with police until January 1998.
In 2000 police reclassified the case as a murder investigation. Upon completion of their investigation, they turned over the case on June 2, 2000, to the county Prosecutor’s Office for review, but prosecutors did not pursue it and the case had remained inactive.
In 2005 the case was blown wide open when then-Department of Human Services Director Lillian Koller released 2,000 pages of confidential documents that told a story of abuse.
They revealed Peter Boy’s sister told a psychologist in June 1998 that she had seen Peter Boy’s dead body in her father’s car trunk and in a box in her parents’ closet, and that they took the box to Honolulu.
The girl also said her father gave Peter Boy and her mother “dirty lickings,” threw Peter Boy naked into a trash can and forced him to eat feces, the documents showed.
Peter Boy and his two siblings were removed from their home by child welfare authorities shortly after his birth in 1991 because of reports of child abuse. Peter Boy was 3 months old when he was hospitalized with multiple new and healing fractures. The three siblings were eventually reunited with their parents, but reports of abuse continued to surface.
Koller, who could not be reached Thursday, told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 2007, “I think it’s pretty obvious this child is not just missing, but has perished.”
No one had ever been charged or arrested in the murder case before.
“It was a tough case,” said Esteban, the Hawaii County police lieutenant. He noted that the boy’s injuries were documented, yet his remains have never been found.
“There were some frustrations that investigators went through, the prosecutors went through, and we share the same frustrations with the community,” he said. “But we’re hopeful through all these years of efforts that this case will see the inside of a courtroom and hold the individuals responsible for what happened to Peter Boy accountable.”
Esteban said Hawaii County police have assigned a detective solely to this case.
They conducted follow-up interviews, and “through the combined effort of both the Police Department’s investigative unit and the prosecutor’s office, this indictment was made possible,” he said.
“Let’s not minimize that the family had played a vital role in moving this case forward,” he said.
Esteban commended Roth, the Hawaii County prosecutor, for having the faith that “we can make this happen.”
In November police arrested the Puna couple on suspicion of unrelated offenses, but prosecutors and police expressed hope for the murder case.
The Department of Human Services’ Welfare Fraud Investigation Division asked police to execute a search warrant of the Kemas’ Ainaloa subdivision house, which led to Peter Kema’s drug and firearm violations arrest. He was not charged.
Jaylin Kema was arrested and charged with theft in a welfare fraud case. Trial in that case is scheduled for July 18.
“The firearms and welfare fraud cases were an important investigative component,” Esteban said. “That started the momentum in keeping this case moving towards indictment.”
“Our focus remains simple: We want to hold the parents accountable, and we’re hoping there may be some information developed in the future that may lead us to a closure or even finding Peter Boy’s remains,” Esteban said.
Hawaii County police, with the help of Honolulu police, conducted an exhaustive search for Peter Boy and Makuakane on Oahu. They even searched in Florida with the help of the Florida state government because Peter Kema said Makuakane had moved there.
Esteban said police have also searched for the boy’s remains on Hawaii island.
“That still remains our goal: to find the remains of Peter Boy,” he said.