Trial for teen accused in 'Ewa Beach murder begins
• Photo gallery: Vernon Bartley murder trial
By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer
Teenager Vernon Bartley kept his head down yesterday as a prosecutor described the "gruesome, violent, detestable" crimes committed against his neighbor Karen Ertell in May 2007.
Bartley raped and murdered his neighbor Ertell the day after she was subpoenaed to testify against him in a burglary trial, First Deputy Prosecutor Douglas Chin said as Bartley's trial opened.
The defendant, now 17, was just 15 years old when he allegedly committed the crimes but is being tried as an adult in a Circuit Court nonjury trial.
Bartley held his head down during Chin's opening statement and throughout the testimony of the first witnesses against him.
Chin told Circuit Judge Virginia Crandall that Bartley, who lived with his family across the street from Ertell in 'Ewa Beach, had broken into her house as many as five times in the year before she died.
At one point he wrote her a letter of apology for the break-ins, Chin said.
Ertell finally pressed criminal charges against the youth after he allegedly stole some $500 in a 2006 burglary. That case was pending against him when he allegedly attacked Ertell in her house, raping and strangling her and stealing her car, credit cards and other belongings.
Ertell and Bartley's mother had each been served with subpoenas May 26, 2007, to testify in the youth's burglary case.
Bartley's mother had cooperated with police in their investigation of the case.
Bartley is accused of assaulting and killing Ertell the morning of May 27, 2007, as she was getting ready to leave her house for work.
Ertell's foster daughter, Malanie McLellan, testified for the prosecution yesterday afternoon.
McLellan said she had urged Ertell to go to police with complaints about Bartley after he repeatedly stole items from her home.
Ertell had hired Bartley's sister to work in Ertell's coffee business because she knew the family needed money, McLellan said.
For the same reason, she turned down offers from Vernon Bartley's parents to repay her for the items he stole from her, but did say the youth could do yard work for her, McLellan said.
Bartley admitted to police that he strangled Ertell with a "triangle " wrestling hold and smiled to himself when he recounted the crime, according to police records.
Chin told Judge Virginia Crandall that after the murder, Bartley stole Ertell's Volvo sedan and drove his friends around that day and evening, attempting at one point to use her ATM card to get cash.
A photo of Bartley at the ATM machine, with the Volvo visible in the background, is part of the evidence against him.
Bartley made statements to his friends indicating that he had raped and killed Ertell, Chin said.
He laughed and sang and went to the beach with his friends while his victim was lying dead in her house, Chin said.