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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 21, 2010

Records reveal earlier break-ins

By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Vernon Bartley

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In the year before 'Ewa Beach resident Karen Ertell was murdered in her home, her alleged killer repeatedly burgled Ertell's home and even wrote a note of apology to her for his behavior, according to court records.

The records were filed in advance of the murder trial of Vernon Bartley, 17, scheduled to begin next week in Circuit Court.

Bartley was 15 years old when Ertell died in 2007, and he had illegally entered her residence at least five times in the preceding year, according to papers filed by First Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Douglas Chin.

The first was May 31, 2006, when Bartley allegedly stole Ertell's car keys from her house, followed by another unauthorized entry in July 2006, according to the court records.

On Oct. 1, 2006, Bartley allegedly burgled Ertell's home again, stealing "approximately $500 to $600," and prompting the victim to file a complaint with the police.

That led to a first-degree burglary charge against the teenager in Family Court and a trial was pending when Ertell was killed.

Bartley allegedly entered Ertell's home again in October and November of 2006, stealing jewelry and a small amount of cash, according to the prosecution.

Chin said in the court papers that he plans to use a note Bartley wrote to Ertell as evidence in the murder case.

The undated note was addressed "Dear Karen," and began, "Im so sorry for going into your house.

"I was not thinking but anyways Im sorry for taking things from your house.

"I will do what ever it takes to earn my trust but I promise I never took your ipod or your earing.

"So any ways thanks for reading this letter I should feel shame of my self and also I don't like to go DH."

"DH" was a reference to the state-run Detention Home where juveniles facing criminal charges are held.

Chin said he plans to use the note and other evidence to "prove motive" and planning and preparation by Bartley in the murder case.

Bartley was originally indicted on a charge of first-degree murder because the victim was a witness in a pending criminal case.

That charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

But Circuit Judge Virginia Crandall upheld a motion by defense lawyer Jeffrey Hawk to dismiss the first-degree murder charge because it could not be applied in a case that began as a juvenile matter in Family Court.

The Family Court eventually waived its jurisdiction over Bartley and he was indicted as an adult on charges including murder, sexual assault, burglary and credit card offenses.

The murder charge has been reduced to a second-degree offense, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison with the possibility of parole.