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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, September 14, 2001

Man accepts manslaughter deal in death of toddler

By David Waite
Advertiser Staff Writer

A man whose murder trial ended with a hung jury last month pleaded no contest in Circuit Court yesterday to a reduced charge of manslaughter in connection with the death of his 22-month-old stepdaughter more than 16 years ago.

Under terms of Hawai'i law in effect when the tot was killed, Vern E. King could have faced a maximum sentence of 10 years and a fine of up to $25,000 for a manslaughter conviction in the death of Kareatha Gray on May 8, 1985.

But under the terms of an agreement, prosecutors will seek no prison time beyond that already served by King while awaiting a trial, although they will ask that he be placed on five years probation.

As of yesterday, King, 42, had spent 22 months behind bars while waiting to be tried on the murder charge.

The prosecution claimed that King beat and suffocated the toddler who was left in his care at their 'Aiea home while the girl's mother went shopping. But during the murder trial, King testified that he never had trouble with the child and never hit her.

After deliberating for about eight hours, the jury foreman told Circuit Judge Karen Ahn that the panel was hopelessly deadlocked and likely would not be able to reach a unanimous verdict if given more time.

Ahn declared a mistrial Aug. 13 and Deputy City Prosecutor Maurice Arrisgado, who prosecuted the case with Glenn Kim, also a city deputy prosecutor, said his office would likely seek a new trial on the murder charges against King.

Under state law, a murder conviction carries a mandatory life term with the chance of parole.

Kim yesterday said that "after taking into consideration all of the factors" including the hung jury that resulted from King's first murder trial, negotiating the plea agreement with him on a manslaughter charge appeared to be "just and reasonable."

The fact that the girl's death happened so long ago was "another factor taken into consideration" in deciding to accept a plea agreement in the case, Kim said.

King has been housed at O'ahu Community Correctional Center since he was arrested on the murder charge in early 2000, unable to post the $100,000 bail.

As part of the plea agreement, King was to be placed on supervised release immediately while awaiting sentencing, which is set for Dec. 4.