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Puna man faces life in prison in sexual assault of girl, 12

Leila Fujimori

A 40-year-old Puna man who is considered a “persistent offender” could face a life sentence without the possibility of parole for kidnapping and raping a 12-year-old girl if convicted of the charges.

James Pomaikai Kepa of Keaau was scheduled to appear in Hilo District Court for a preliminary hearing Wednesday to enter a plea on two counts of first- degree sexual assault, second-degree assault and kidnapping of the girl, who is a family member, and violation of a protective order meant to protect her and two other girls.

But Kepa was neither present in the courtroom nor by Zoom. The court was notified he is in Department of Public Safety custody under medical isolation/quarantine and cannot appear for 10 days. Judge Jeffrey Hawk continued the preliminary hearing for two weeks until Sept. 7.

The complaint says the crimes occurred the night of Aug. 15 into the early morning hours of Aug. 16.

Police said the girl had gone to Kepa’s Hawaiian Paradise Park home to visit Kepa’s daughter.

He allegedly lured the girl into his room, locked her inside, tied her up, hit her face and upper body and sexually assaulted her.

A court document showing probable cause for his arrest says the girl reported during an interview at the Children’s Justice Center that between 11 p.m. Aug. 15 through early Aug. 16, Kepa prevented her from leaving his room after saying he wanted to talk to her.

He allegedly blocked the door by placing a wooden stick and a laundry basket against it.

The girl said she struggled to prevent Kepa from tying her wrists with “thick string,” later identified as straps. She said she tried to sit on her hands and kicked at him, to try to leave.

Kepa then allegedly slapped her twice in the face with each hand, punched her in the chest, which left a bruise, and tied her wrists, causing pain.

He then allegedly sexually assaulted the girl, left the room, possibly to take drugs, returned and repeated the act, according to the court document.

Kepa reportedly untied the girl later that morning and allowed her to leave the bedroom.

Police said she left the house and contacted her family, and reported the incident.

Police arrested Kepa on Saturday night.

The court document shows that a protective order preventing Kepa from having contact with the girl remains in effect until Jan. 6. A woman had filed the petition, which was granted Jan. 26, 2021, on behalf of the 12-year-old and two other girls, one younger, one older.

Hawaii County police said they charged Kepa on Saturday, after conferring with prosecutors.

A complaint filed Monday said Kepa is a persistent offender, with a history of kidnapping, first-degree terroristic threatening and felony abuse of a family or household member, all of which occurred Jan. 5, 2021, and for which Kepa was convicted June 4, 2021.

Prosecutors say they will seek an extended term of imprisonment, namely life without the possibility of parole, if he is convicted of the crimes alleged to have occurred Aug. 15 and 16.

Kepa’s bail remains set at $610,000.

Kepa was released March 5, 2022, on $36,000 bail in a case involving charges of third-degree forgery, second-degree identity theft, second- degree theft and second- degree attempted theft.

But that was revoked May 22 for violating the terms and conditions of release, and he was arrested June 14 for the theft case and the January 2021 case.

In the January 2021 case, Kepa pleaded no contest to kidnapping, terroristic threatening and abuse of family or household members.

He was sentenced to five years’ probation and one year of incarceration with credit for time served.

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