A 21-year-old man with Asperger’s syndrome pleaded not guilty in Circuit Court today in connection with the death of his 19-year-old autistic girlfriend in Wahiawa.
Kaniala K. Avilla-Rapoza appeared before Judge Colette Garibaldi at his arraignment via closed-circuit video link from the Oahu Community Correctional Center after an Oahu grand jury indicted him with second-degree murder in Nelibeth Albert’s death.
Attorney Moani Crowell pleaded not guilty to the murder charge on Avilla-Rapoza’s behalf.
Garibaldi confirmed his bail at $500,000 and set his trial for July.
According to a court document, police said Avilla-Rapoza admitted he killed Albert by choking her. He led police down a trail at the Wahiawa Freshwater State Recreation Area to Albert’s body on May 18.
Avilla-Rapoza and Albert had been dating for two months but had known each other since they were classmates at Leilehua High School.
Individuals with Asperger’s syndrome have impaired social and communication skills.
Crowell said they contest the validity of Avilla-Rapoza’s statement to police. When you have someone who has special needs such as Kaniala, “there’s an inability to comprehend and intelligently waive your legal rights.”
“He insists on his innocence,” Crowell said after the arraignment.