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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 9, 2001

Accused man takes stand to deny abuse in death of stepchild

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

A man accused of murdering his stepdaughter testified yesterday that he never abused the child and did nothing that led to her death more than 16 years ago.

Vern E. King took the stand in his own defense yesterday. He is charged with one count of murder in connection with the death of 22-month-old Kareatha Gray on May 8, 1985.

An autopsy conducted soon after Kareatha's death was inconclusive and the cause of death was listed as "undetermined."

But prosecutors said a second autopsy several years later showed she suffered numerous injuries, including a broken rib, an old arm fracture, lacerated liver and an injury to her mouth.

Prosecutors contend that Kareatha was beaten and then suffocated by King.

But King testified yesterday that he often took care of Kareatha. King said he never had trouble with the child and never hit her.

On the night of her death, Kelly made a quick trip to a shopping mall. King said he cleaned Kareatha after dinner, let her play for a while, and then put her to bed.

He said he didn't know anything was wrong until his wife came home, checked on the girl and began to scream for help. King said he went to Kareatha's bedroom where he found her pale and lifeless.

King said he attempted CPR and told Kelly to call an ambulance. Kareatha was pronounced dead less than an hour later at Tripler Army Medical Center.

"I was in shock. I couldn't believe it. It was only an hour or so earlier that we were having dinner," King testified. "I couldn't find any explanation for what happened."

Kelly on Monday said Kareatha didn't care for her stepfather. Kelly said her daughter would often hold her breath while King was around and would cry when he picked her up at the sitter.

Kelly also testified that King showed little sadness immediately following Kare-atha's death and even asked if his wife wanted to have sex.

King said he doesn't remember that. "All I know is I was trying to console my wife. I may have said that or something. I was just trying to make her feel better," King said.

King showed little emotion during his testimony.

Closing arguments will be held tomorrow morning and King's fate then will go to the jurors. If convicted, he faces a mandatory term of life in prison with the possibility of parole.

After the jury was dismissed, King asked a state sheriff if he could see his stepdaughter and son. They were allowed in the courtroom, where he hugged the two. For the first time since his trial began last week, he showed some emotion.

Reach Curtis Lum at culum@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8025.