It’s a case nearly two decades in the making.
Peter Kema Jr., a.k.a. “Peter Boy,” has been missing since 1997. He was six years old when he disappeared on Hawaii Island.
Now, we’re just two months away from the murder trial of his father, Peter Kema Sr.
Hawaii County deputy prosecutor Ricky Roy Damerville didn’t work the “Peter Boy” Kema case until about a year ago. He actually retired from the prosecutor’s office, but was asked to return as a temporary hire.
In our exclusive report, Kathy Muneno sits down with him to ask: Why now, after so many years, was there enough evidence to indict?
Damerville is quick to acknowledge the 19 years of work that police and prosecutors put into the search for justice for Peter Boy.
“The police never stopped working this case, ever,” Damerville said.
Documents reveal Peter Boy endured horrific abuse in his six short years of life.
Even though his parents were suspects in his disappearance, there was never enough evidence to indict them — or was there?
Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth was determined to find out.
“Mr. Roth decided that someone needs to be doing that case full-time with no other distractions, and he persuaded the mayor to give him some money,” Damerville said. “So I came back and started working it 24/7 in the beginning of March (2016).”
That money, approved by then-Mayor Billy Kenoi, was also used to hire an investigator, retired police captain Billy Perreira.
Two sets of fresh eyes were dedicated solely to the case. Damerville and Perreira scrutinized some 6,000 reports accumulated over 19 years.
“When you come in without any preset views of any kind, then when you look at the facts, you may see things that other people didn’t see,” Damerville said. “That accumulation of stuff led to some other doors that maybe other people hadn’t looked at.”
After one month, in April, they had enough evidence for the indictment and arrests of Peter Kema Sr. and Jaylin Kema.
“When we decided to present it to the grand jury, I think we were both happy with our case. We are still happy with our case,” Damerville said. “There’s no secret to it. There’s no magic bullet that came out from any one place. It’s just putting things together and that’s kind of what we did.”
Damerville admits the evidence is circumstantial, “but sometimes circumstantial evidence is the best evidence.” He says many solid pieces together can make a solid case.
“It’s not the result you hoped for back in 1997 or early ’98 when this investigation started, but there’s a sense of relief there that it’s coming to some type of closure. It may not be the closure the state wants, Mr. Kema wants. It may not be the closure the community wants, but at some point, it’s getting there,” Damerville said.
“The children cases always stick with you, and it’s the same way with everyone in law enforcement,” he added. “It’s a heart-wrenching feeling, there’s just no getting around it. But you can use it to motivate you to work a little bit harder and it worked, in this case, I think so far. We’ll see.”
But, Damerville adds, beyond this case, a larger problem looms.
“It’ll happen again. It’ll happen again, because we don’t have the kind of inter-connectedness or community connection that we had in my lifetime,” he said. “When I was a kid growing up in Florida ‘BDBA’ — before Disney, before air conditioning — all of the parents in the street knew who I was, who my parents were, and were not shy about reigning me in if they thought I was doing something that was dangerous to myself or others. Today, it’s sort of like your next door neighbors don’t know you, don’t want to know you, and don’t get involved in the grocery store, because if you see something terrible, because that’s the kuleana of the Child Protective Service workers, don’t get involved. As long as that’s going to continue to remain, this society we’re left with, these kinds of cases are going to happen again. There’s just no way around it.”
Jaylin Kema is expected to testify against her husband as part of a plea agreement.
In part two of our series, we’ll hear more about that, along with Damerville’s answer to the question: Will Peter Boy ever be found?