Uncle charged in girl's death
By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer
A 5-year-old Hawai'i girl may have been dead for more than a month before police discovered her body in the bedroom of a relative's apartment in Phoenix, Ariz.
The badly decomposed body of Kaiya Kapahu was found Wednesday in an apartment shared by her uncle and grandfather. The girl's uncle, Leonard R. Orta Jr., 47, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in connection with her death and is being held without bail.
Orta is a former Kailua resident. He had been caring for his niece since July 2009 while her father, a Hawai'i resident and Orta's brother, goes through a divorce, according to a Phoenix police affidavit.
The girl's parents could not be reached for comment yesterday. A woman who answered the phone at Orta's father's home in Arizona said she could not comment on the case.
Kaiya, who would have turned 6 yesterday, suffered from Rett syndrome , a developmental disorder that is often misdiagnosed as autism or cerebral palsy. She was unable to care for herself and relied on her uncle to feed her and provide her medication, the affidavit said.
Kaiya's father placed the girl in the guardianship of his brother, Leonard Orta, and paid him $500 a month to care for her, the affidavit said. Orta cashed the latest installment after her death, police said.
The suspect's father, Leonard Orta Sr., suspected that something was wrong when he smelled a foul odor coming from his granddaughter's room on Wednesday. He tried to enter the room but was denied access by his son, who shouted at his father and shoved him out of the doorway, the affidavit said.
Orta Sr. called police and told them he was concerned for Kaiya's welfare and that he had not seen her since mid-January, according to the affidavit. Police entered the girl's room and found her in bed in an "advanced state of decomposition," the affidavit said.
Police called Orta Jr. and told him to return home. When he arrived, police detected a "odor of alcoholic beverage about his breath and body," the affidavit said.
While he was questioned by police, Orta's story about what happened to his niece kept changing, police said. At first, he told officers that Kaiya had a seizure about a week ago and that he "freaked out" because he did not know what to do, despite claiming that he had worked as a caregiver for special needs children in Europe for 25 years.
Orta told police that he believed Kaiya died on Feb. 8 and that he did not know how to handle her death, the affidavit said. Rather than report her death, Orta admitted to "carrying on with a charade of feeding Kaiya and caring for her in her bedroom around his father."
Orta also left his father false messages that Kaiya had been admitted to the hospital for seizures, the affidavit said.
But, police said, after volunteering to take a polygraph test, Orta Jr. recanted his story and admitted to depriving Kaiya of her medication and food for 10 days prior to her death.
He said he did not know the date of her death, but said it was about four weeks before her body was found, the affidavit said.
"Upon discovering Kaiya deceased, Jr. admitted to hugging her for a few minutes and then position her in her bed to make it appear as though she died in her sleep with a feeding cup under her neck and shoulder area with the hopes of Sr. discovering Kaiya deceased," the affidavit said.
Police did not say why Orta Sr. had not noticed his granddaughter's absence. But he told police that he last heard her in mid-January after returning home from surgeries and also had suffered from a stroke, which left him with limited mobility, the affidavit said.
Orta Jr. is scheduled to appear at a preliminary hearing in Phoenix Superior Court on March 1.