BY CHELSEA JENSEN | WEST HAWAII TODAY
A lack of secure court facilities in West Hawaii has resulted in another high-profile death case being transferred to Hilo for trial.
3rd Circuit Court Chief Judge Ronald Ibarra on Thursday moved the case against Ezekiel R.H. Wakinekona, who is facing manslaughter and abuse charges stemming from the January death of 3-year-old Marley Makanani, to Hilo citing inadequate court facilities in West Hawaii.
"This courthouse is inadequate," he said about the facility located on Halekii Street.
Ibarra indicated on Wednesday the case would be moved to Hilo because West Hawaii facilities are not secure enough for the trial. He also noted if the case remained in West Hawaii, it would require enhanced security that could compromise security at other facilities.
The last high-profile death case transferred from West Hawaii to Hilo occurred in summer 2009 when Ibarra ordered the case against Kevin C. Metcalfe be held in Hilo because Ibarra's Kona courthouse wasn't secure enough. Metcalfe, who had been charged with murder in connection with the death of Larry Kuahuia, was ultimately found guilty of manslaughter in Hilo Circuit Court.
The change in court venue came after Wakinekona's attorney Richard Sing entered not guilty pleas to manslaughter and two counts misdemeanor abuse of a family or household member. Wakinekona is scheduled to go on trial at 9 a.m. May 15 in Hilo.
He remains in custody at Hawaii Community Correctional Center on $510,000 bail.
Waimea's Makanani, who was identified as being Wakinekona's hanai sister's daughter, died Jan. 15 of brain damage caused by a "near drowning and traumatic head injury due to child abuse," according to Jan. 19 preliminary hearing testimony by a Hawaii Police Department officer referencing the cause of death determined by Honolulu Medical Examiner Kanthi De Alwis.
The girl had been found Jan. 13 unconscious with labored breathing at Wakinekona's Waimea home. Wakinekona's wife, Kahealani Wakinekona, testified during the preliminary hearing that Ezekiel Wakinekona had been giving the girl a bath, left for an undetermined amount of time and returned to find the girl partially submerged in the water and making gurgling sounds.
The couple subsequently attempted to transport Makanani to North Hawaii Community Hospital but stopped at the Waimea Fire Station when she ceased breathing, she said. Medics then brought the girl to the hospital where she was stabilized enough to be transferred to Oahu for further treatment. She was pronounced dead Jan. 15, according to police.
Wakinekona, just hours after the girl's death, was charged with manslaughter and two counts misdemeanor abuse of a family or household member. The abuse charges stem from injuries suffered by Makanani's sisters, Journey, 6, and Taimani, 2.
The three girls had apparently been left in Wakinekona's custody after the girls' mother, Tasha Nihau-Lindsey, "dropped them off and never came back," Kahealani Wakinekona testified during the preliminary hearing.
According to the Department of the Attorney General's criminal records, Wakinekona has 10 prior convictions, none for felonies, dating back to 1993 when he was convicted of misdemeanor assault and sentenced in Hilo District Court to six months probation and 50 hours community service.