Kawaihae sex assault suspect pleads not guilty


KAILUA-KONA — A teen suspected of sexually assaulting a septuagenarian at a South Kohala campground last month has pleaded not guilty to seven counts filed in connection with the incident.

Zeth Robert Browder, 18, of no permanent address, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to two counts each first-degree sexual assault and third-degree sexual assault and one count each first-degree burglary, kidnapping and tampering with evidence.

Hilo Circuit Court Judge Greg Nakamura scheduled trial for Browder to commence on Nov. 12 before Kona Circuit Court Judge Robert D.S. Kim, who is presiding over the felony case.

The teen remains in custody in lieu of $166,000 bail.

Browder was indicted July by a Kona grand jury on seven counts stemming from the June 15 incident at Spencer Beach Park, a Hawaii County facility.

The indictment was brought by the City and County of Honolulu Department of the Prosecuting Attorney, which is now handling the case after Hawaii County prosecutors determined it would be a conflict for them to prosecute the case and forwarded the case to the Attorney General’s Office in Honolulu, which assigned it to the Honolulu office.

The charges stem from a sex assault reported to Hawaii Police about 6 a.m. June 15 after South Kohala patrol officers responded to the Kawaihae campground. The victim, a 78-year-old woman, told officers that she had been sexually assaulted by a man who was also camping in the area. However, the parties were not camping together.

Police said after taking the report, officers located and took Browder into custody while the investigation continued. He was charged the following day. The case was being heard in Kona District Court to determine if probable cause existed to support the charges, however, prosecutor’s took the case to a grand jury for indictment.

First-degree sexual assault and kidnapping are class A felonies punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment; first-degree burglary is a class B felony that carries a 10-year sentence; and third-degree sexual assault in a class C felony punishable by five years behind bars. Evidence tampering is a misdemeanor offense

Because prosecutors intend to seek enhanced sentencing measures if Browder is convicted of two or more the felony counts he faces longer terms behind bars. Such enhancement would mean a life sentence with the possibility of parole for the class A felonies and double the time behind bars for the class B and C felonies.

By Chelsea Jensen West Hawaii Today cjensen@westhawaiitoday.com

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