LIHUE — A Lihue man was sentenced to 30 days jail and felony probation on Thursday in 5th Circuit Court for sexual assault against a cousin.
Kalaniaiaeaponoleihoo-wehi Matthews, 25, appeared in court with several family members present, who gasped in relief when the sentence did not include prison. He was facing a possible 10-year prison term and was out of custody on $50,000 bail while awaiting sentencing.
Chief Judge Randal Valenciano said the difficulty with this case was weighing a number of factors — the circumstances and facts, along with the impact to the victim and the lack of a criminal record of the defendant.
“Prison is not appropriate in this case,” Valenciano said.
Instead, Matthews was placed on HOPE (Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement) for close supervision of high-risk offenders. Compliance and monitoring in this program are more strict than with standard probation, and with more immediate consequences.
This is a situation where no side prevails, Valenciano added. Among the consequences for the defendant are that he must register with sex offender compliance for the rest of his life.
Young people do not always understand the impact that their actions will have for the rest of their lives, he said. The tragedy of the youthful attitude of “YOLO” (you only live once) means they often won’t even understand the consequences until they are older, he said.
“We respectfully believe this defendant’s conduct warranted more serious consequences,” said County Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar. “His victim-blaming and deflection evidence a failure to take responsibility for his actions.”
State Deputy Public Defender Samuel Jajich said this is among the most difficult cases that he has presented to the court. He said Matthews is facing serious charges but is also a man of exemplary character with no prior record.
“Pono has taken responsibility from the start,” Jajich said.
There was alcohol involved by both Matthews and the victim, Jajich said. That is no excuse, he added, but asked the court to take this and all of the circumstantial information into account.
Jajich asked the court to grant probation.
The defendant made no statements to the court.
The offense occurred on Sept. 30, 2012. The victim was celebrating a 21st birthday with Matthews and friends. The two had been drinking, and according to statements during the change of plea hearing in July, Matthews stayed overnight at the home of his cousin and, at some point, used compulsion to subject the female to sexual penetration.
A 5th Circuit grand jury indicted Matthews on Dec. 27, 2012 and he was arrested on Jan. 3, 2013.
County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Lisa Arin said Matthews was a lifelong trusted friend who took advantage of someone in a very vulnerable situation. The victim was left on the floor for her mother to find the next day, she added.
The victim’s life is severely impacted with trust and intimacy issues that will be a lifelong ordeal, Arin said. The family has been torn apart by this crisis, she added.
Matthews pleaded no contest to third-degree sexual assault and to an amended charge of second-degree sexual assault. The plea deal reduced a first-degree charge and so a 10-year prison term for second-degree sex assault, and a concurrent five-year term for third-degree sex assault is appropriate, Arin said.
Prison offers a sexual offender treatment program whereas the jail does not, she added.