Waimanalo couple accused of murder retain parental rights

Feb. 6—The Waimanalo couple accused of murdering their 6-year-old adopted daughter in 2021 apparently have retained their parental rights over three of the victim's young sisters.

Lehua Kalua and Isaac "Sonny" Kalua III were indicted Nov. 17, 2021, in the death of Isabella "Ariel" Kalua and charged with murder, abuse of both Isabella and her then 12-year-old sister, persistent nonsupport, hindering prosecution, abuse and endangering the welfare of a minor.

The Kaluas reported Isabella missing Sept. 12, 2021, but police said she died in mid-August, and her body has never been found. She was allegedly kept in a dog cage and denied food, and Lehua Kalua is accused of duct-taping the child's mouth and nose, causing her death, court documents said.

Isabella's three sisters were removed from the Kalua home Sept. 13, 2021, and placed under Child Welfare Services' supervision, but little is known about their current status since family court proceedings and documents are not

accessible to the public.

"To the best of my knowledge, the Kaluas still retain their parental rights of all the children who were in their care before their arrest for murdering one of them," said Steve Lane, who was appointed in June 2022 by Family Court Judge Jessi Hall as special master to investigate the matter and served until January 2023.

Hall, the initial Family Court judge assigned to the case, approved the placement of four of the daughters of Melanie Joseph in the Kalua home, Lane said. But Hall, without explanation, suddenly recused herself from the case, which was reassigned to Judge Brian Costa, Lane said.

"I can think of no defensible explanation as to why the state of Hawaii hasn't moved to terminate the

parental rights of the Kaluas long ago," Lane said.

The Kaluas remain behind bars at the Oahu Community Correctional Center awaiting trial.

"As long as they (the Kaluas) are permitted to maintain their parental rights, it will seriously frustrate the efforts of those concerned with their (Isabella's siblings') safety and stability, such as the search for permanent 'forever' foster or adoptive families and educational opportunities," Lane said.

Attorney Francis O'Brien, who specializes in family law, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser he has been retained to represent Isaac Kalua in family court, and made clear he is not court-appointed, which means someone other than the state is paying O'Brien's legal fees.

O'Brien declined to comment on whether Kalua is trying to maintain his parental rights and, if so, why.

On Nov. 9, Kalua appeared before the Circuit Court judge in the murder case, asking for bail to be set.

The state vigorously opposed setting bail and Kalua's possible release because of the safety of the state's key witness, the eldest adopted daughter, now 14.

The girl, who was 12 at the time of Isabella's death, told authorities Lehua Kalua instructed her to help carry an unresponsive Isabella into a bathtub filled with water to revive her. She also said that Isabella had been denied food, was kept in a dog cage and had her mouth and nose duct-taped shut before losing consciousness, which led to the Kaluas' indictment and arrest.

The state said there is a high risk Isaac Kalua would obstruct or attempt to obstruct justice, possibly injuring, intimidating or attempting to injure or

intimidate a prospective witness or juror, given he could be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole if convicted.

Donovan Odo, his court-

appointed attorney, argued that unlike his wife, Kalua was charged with murder by omission, not murder by commission.

The deputy prosecutor said Kalua failed to get aid for the 6-year-old, who was unresponsive after being tied up and put in a dog cage next to a toilet, and was charged with hindering prosecution.

Odo told the court that the eldest girl is no longer in the care of the Kalua family, but the state argued it has no information as to whether the situation is permanent.

The judge was concerned about the possibility of obstruction and denied the motion for bail.

Lane said, "It's my understanding that one of the children was detained in Hale Kipa for a long period of time because the state was unable to secure an approved foster home for her."

Hale Kipa also houses youth involved in juvenile justice, behavioral health and child welfare, according to its website.

Lane has served as

special master in several high-profile child abuse cases, including that of

Peter "Peter Boy" Kema Jr., 6, whose father admitted to killing him 20 years later. He said he cannot comment on his findings in any case because his reports are filed under seal and turned over to the presiding judge.

In November, Lane said in a written statement: "The presiding Judge (Hall) in the Ariel Kalua case had more than enough disqualifying evidence that was in the public domain to deny the adoption of these children by the subject parents, Issac and Lehua Kalua. That evidence included the criminal rec­ords of the parents for assault and drug use, filed bankruptcy documents, and the absence of a rec­ord of children of their own.

"While I can not comment on my findings as Special Master in this case, the court also had available to them hundreds of pages of documents above described, some of which has been disclosed on

multiple occasions by the press in the past two years, including eyewitness accounts by neighbors of abuse of the subject children that were reported and then ignored."

Attorney Michael Cruise spoke in August about the civil complaint filed by his and two other law firms against the Kaluas, the

Department of Human Serv­ices and Catholic Charities for their alleged failure to keep the children safe.

He said a court-­appointed special master (Lane) was able to gain access to DHS records prior to the appointment of a personal representative of the estate and a conservator for Isabella's sisters, which allegedly show that DHS and/or Catholic Charities received a series of

reports showing what happened to Isabella, but no action was taken, the lawsuit says.

Lane's report may be unsealed if a judge approves Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest's Jan. 12 motions to unseal Isabella's court adoption records and portions of her Child Protective Act Proceeding. The motions are set to be heard Feb. 21 in Family Court.

One motion asks the court to unseal the case docket, records sufficient to understand the factual and legal record on which the court approved Isabella's placement with the Kaluas, records to understand the factual record presented to the court by the Department of Human Services and any other party regarding their fitness as parents, and any reports filed by Lane.