Kiwi teen on trial for Hawaii murder

Last updated 16:19 25/02/2010

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An American prosecutor wants a judge to revoke $US500,000 ($NZ721,500) bail for a New Zealand teenager being tried for strangling a woman neighbour in Hawaii.

Vernon Phillip Bartley, 17, is on trial in a Hawaiian state court as an adult for murder, sex assault and other crimes during the May 25, 2007, strangulation of Karen Ertell, 51.

Deputy Prosecutor Douglas Chin said in court documents that Bartley posed a high risk of fleeing because he had no ties to the community, other than his parents and siblings.

He moved with his family to Hawaii from New Zealand in 2005 and at the time of the killing had been arrested more than 10 times for offences such as burglary, trespassing, and theft.

At present, Bartley is being held in juvenile custody for burglary, but will automatically be released when he turns 18 on April 21, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported.

The prosecution has completed its case before the judge in the non-jury trial, and the defence chose not to present evidence or witnesses.

Mr Chin and defence lawyer Jeffrey Hawk still must argue before Judge Virginia Crandall about the admissibility of some of the evidence in the case, the Star-Bulletin said.

And each side must argue about the rape charge lodged against Bartley, because of evidence in the case indicating that the victim was already dead when she was sexually assaulted.

Bartley admitted to police, in a tape-recorded session that was attended by his mother, that he strangled Ertell with a "triangle" choke hold.

He made no admission about the rape but told police detectives he did not intend to kill her.

He had planned to sneak into Ms Ertell's home and steal her keys.

His mother told the court her son had admitted to her that he had committed several burglaries of Ms Ertell's home in 2006, months before he allegedly raped and strangled the woman.

"He basically told me he did (the burglaries) because I asked him to tell me the truth and he did," said Jillian Bartley, testifying as a prosecution witness.

She described Ms Ertell, as a "neighbour and friend".

In one burglary of Ms Ertell's home in 2006, Bartley stole between $500 and $600 and the neighbour was due to give evidence against him in a family court a few days after the New Zealander admitted strangling her.

Mrs Bartley described her son, 15 at the time of the murder, as physically and emotionally immature for his age.

He was "missing and skipping classes" at school and was still struggling in grade 7 at an age when his peers were well into high school, she said.

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Although shy, Bartley had friends - "but not the right kind", she said

- NZPA

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