Murder Sheet

Vanished in Kalihi: The Murder of Helen Prestosa

February 02, 2021 Mystery Sheet Season 1 Episode 12
Murder Sheet
Vanished in Kalihi: The Murder of Helen Prestosa
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Murder Sheet
Vanished in Kalihi: The Murder of Helen Prestosa
Feb 02, 2021 Season 1 Episode 12
Mystery Sheet

On a rainy November night in 2015, a beloved Jack in the Box manager disappeared from her apartment in Honolulu's Kalihi neighborhood. 39-year-old Helen Prestosa was gone, and no one knew why.

Answers seemed imminent when police honed in on the troubled son of Prestosa's neighbor.  But a contentious murder trial — which was nearly derailed by a courthouse breakdown  — resulted in an outcome that left many feeling shocked and let down.

This episode features an exclusive, in-depth interview with the defense attorney who repped the man accused of murdering Prestosa. And it will leave you wondering if the right person is in prison today.
 
Follow the Murder Sheet on social media for the latest on the Burger Chef murders and future episodes: 

And send tips and thoughts to [email protected] 

Show Notes Transcript

On a rainy November night in 2015, a beloved Jack in the Box manager disappeared from her apartment in Honolulu's Kalihi neighborhood. 39-year-old Helen Prestosa was gone, and no one knew why.

Answers seemed imminent when police honed in on the troubled son of Prestosa's neighbor.  But a contentious murder trial — which was nearly derailed by a courthouse breakdown  — resulted in an outcome that left many feeling shocked and let down.

This episode features an exclusive, in-depth interview with the defense attorney who repped the man accused of murdering Prestosa. And it will leave you wondering if the right person is in prison today.
 
Follow the Murder Sheet on social media for the latest on the Burger Chef murders and future episodes: 

And send tips and thoughts to [email protected] 

Áine Cain:  Content warning: this episode contains descriptions of murder and violence against women. We also preemptively apologize for any mispronunciations heard in the episode. 

Rain sounds play in the background

In November, the night skies in Hawaii cloud over, then open up. It’s not the rainiest month in the Aloha State, but it does mark the end of hurricane season and the start of ho`oilo — or winter — on the islands. 

So the rain was perhaps the least shocking part of Roger Rivera’s story — the story he told police about what he saw in the early hours of the morning of November 20, 2015. A noontime drizzle the day before had swelled into an ongoing downpour. By 3 a.m. on the twentieth, the rain was splashing down the windows of the home Rivera shared with his wife in Kalihi, a neighborhood in Honolulu. That’s when Rivera’s 25-year-old son, Jhun Ley Irorita, appeared. 

Kevin Greenlee: Jhun Ley had caused the family a lot of worry over the years. He was estranged from his parents at this point; a homeless addict hooked on crystal meth. And he’d had problems with women too. He’d threatened a former girlfriend, scaring her to the point where she took out a restraining order against him. 

Áine Cain: But then, on that night in November, Jhun Ley revealed to his drowsy parents that    he’d just done something far, far worse. 

Kevin Greenlee: The family rented an apartment in their basement to Helen Prestosa, a 39-year-old manager at a Jack In the Box on Kapiolani Boulevard. Jhun Ley told his father that he’d just killed her and needed some help.

His father went downstairs with Jhun Ley and helped his son load the body of the murdered woman into the back of Jhun Ley’s pick up truck. Then he watched his son drive off into the storm.

When Rivera shared this story with police, a few months after Helen disappeared, we assume they must have thought they had a slam dunk case against Jhun Ley. 

Áine Cain: (We can only guess about what they thought because the police and prosecutors who worked on this case would not talk with us).

Kevin Greenlee: A drug addict who’s threatened violence against a woman is ratted out as a murderer by his own parents. Things don’t get much clearer than that.

Áine Cain: So it came as a shock when Christian Enright, Jhun Ley’s attorney, stood up in court in 2019 and said not only that his client was innocent but that the real murderer was Roger Rivera — that he’d made up the story implicating his own son to save himself.  

Kevin Greenlee: But Enright’s accusation was not a surprise to the prosecution. Here is Enright:

Christian Enright: YOU DON’T GET TO SANDBAG THEM, YOU KNOW. SO I TOLD THEM THIS IS WHERE MY DEFENSE IS GOING TO BE. THIS IS WHAT I’M GOING TO SAY. I GOT UP ON THE NEWS AND SAID DURING MY OPENING STATEMENT THAT THE EVIDENCE IS GOING TO POINT TO HIS DAD. AND EVERYONE THOUGHT I WAS NUTS — INCLUDING PEOPLE THAT I WORKED WITH. THEY’RE LIKE YOU WROTE A PRETTY BIG CHECK THERE. HOPE YOU CAN CASH IT. 

Áine Cain: Was this a desperate gambit to save his client or was it possible it was true? Could a father sacrifice his own troubled son just to escape a murder charge? Even if he tried, how could he fool the police and prosecutors? And what really happened to Helen Prestosa?

Rain sounds stop.

Ominous music plays.

Áine Cain: My name is Áine Cain.

Kevin Greenlee: And I’m Kevin Greenlee.

Áine Cain: And this is the Murder Sheet, a weekly true crime podcast. 

Kevin Greenlee: Áine and I connected over the Burger Chef murders, a 1978 unsolved case involving the killings of four young restaurant employees. 

Áine Cain: Now we’re looking to track restaurant homicides. To help us understand the patterns of these crimes, we created a spreadsheet of nearly 1,000 eatery-related killings: The Murder Sheet. 

Áine Cain: We’ll be drawing on that data throughout season one to give you a deep dive into under-covered crimes. 

Kevin Greenlee: We don’t just rely on skimming the headlines. We dive into these cases to bring you in-depth coverage. 

We’re the Murder Sheet, and this is “Vanished in Kalihi.” 

Eerie music plays:

Kevin Greenlee: Helen Prestosa was last seen about 7 p.m. on November 19, 2015. 

The next day, when her girlfriend arrived to pick her up for work, she wasn’t at home. And she didn’t show up for her shift at a Honolulu Jack In the Box restaurant, where she worked as a manager. Restaurant employees knew “Miss Helen” as a good boss with a loud laugh, reported local station KHON. 

Áine Cain: Helen’s loved ones immediately became concerned. It wasn’t like Helen to miss work or run off without telling anyone where she was going. Helen was gay, and living with her girlfriend, who had happened to be out on the night of November 19. 

And she also had pressing health concerns. Helen was a cancer survivor, having fully recovered from a bout of breast cancer through surgery and chemo. Before she vanished, she developed bone cancer. She didn't want to let her family know how serious it was. But she tried to take good care of herself, eating organic foods and adding more medication to her regimen. 

Kevin Greenlee: Helen had grown up in the Philippines, and helped to support her elderly parents back home. When she came to Hawaii she moved to a neighborhood called Kalihi, an area which was predominantly Fillipino. She rented the downstairs portion of a home; Roger Rivera and his family lived upstairs. He was sort of a de facto landlord to her, even though he did not own the property. The house actually belonged to his mother.

Áine Cain: Roger’s son, Jhun Ley Irorita, did not live with his parents and there is no evidence he ever met Helen. His father, on the other hand, was more than her landlord. He was also her employee. He was a cook at the same Jack in the Box she managed. 

Christian Enright: SO IF YOU THINK ABOUT THE DYNAMIC, WHERE SHE IS ROGER RIVERA — THE DEFENDANT'S FATHER — SHE'S HIS BOSS. AND HE IS A GOOD TEN YEARS OLDER THAN HER AND FRANKLY THE FACT THAT SHE WAS GAY AND AND THERE’S THAT. FRANKLY, THAT WAS ALWAYS KIND OF AN ISSUE TOO. BECAUSE I GOT THE IMPRESSION THEY DIDN’T NECESSARILY APPROVE OF HER LIFESTYLE — ESPECIALLY ROGER. 

Kevin Greenlee: But there was another, more serious, source of conflict between Roger Rivera and Helen Prestosa. Rivera allegedly tried to make some money by filing a bogus disability claim against Jack in the Box. 

Christian Enright: I DON’T KNOW IF IT'S ALL THAT UNCOMMON  A HUSTLE. AND I THINK BECAUSE JACK IN THE BOX IS A MAJOR CORPORATION PEOPLE THINK YOU CAN DEFRAUD THEM. THAT'S MY SENSE OF WHAT’S GOING ON. I THINK IT WAS RELATED TO SOME KIND OF SLIP AND FALL. BUT HELEN PRESTOSA- — THE VICTIM — WASN’T BUYING IT. 

Áine Cain: Not only did she not believe his claim but she also let him know she planned to report him for filing a false claim. Rivera allegedly did not take kindly to that. 

Christian Enright: THERE WAS SOME BIG BLOW OUT BETWEEN ROGER, THE DEFENDANT’S FATHER, AND THE VICTIM HELEN SHORTLY BEFORE THAT. THEY HAD SOME BEEF ABOUT THE DISABILITY CLAIM AT HOME. ROGER HAD CONFRONTED HELEN. AND SHE SAID THIS WAS A WORK ISSUE, "YOU NEED TO LEAVE ME ALONE. WE CAN DISCUSS THIS AT WORK." AND HE DIDN’T LIKE THAT. 

Áine Cain: Not long afterwards, Helen vanished. 

Christian Enright: EVERYONE WAS SAYING THEY HAD NO IDEA WHAT HAPPENED. THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO HELEN, THEY DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT IT. THE POLICE SEARCHED HER APARTMENT AND HER ROOMMATE, HER GIRLFRIEND, HAD BEEN OUT PLAYING CARDS. AND CAME HOME AND EVERYTHING HAD BEEN CLEANED TOP TO BOTTOM. THE PLACE HAD BEEN SCRUBBED DOWN. WHEN THEY DID THE LUMINOL — ARE YOU FAMILIAR WITH LUMINOL? IT DETECTS THE PRESENCE OF BLOOD THAT’S BEEN CLEANED UP. YOU’VE PROBABLY SEEN IT ON TV. BASICALLY LIKE A BLACK LIGHT. IT SHOWED THAT THERE HAD BEEN BLOOD EVERYWHERE. CLEARLY SOMEONE HAD BEEN ASSAULTED GRIEVOUSLY, IF NOT MURDERED, AND THEN IT WAS ALL CLEANED UP. 

Kevin Greenlee: Since the crime seems to have happened — or at the very least to have started — in Helen’s apartment, the obvious question was who could have gotten inside?

Christian Enright: THE DAD INCIDENTALLY HAD ACCESS TO THE APARTMENT BECAUSE IT WAS THE BOTTOM FLOOR OF THEIR HOUSE. THERE WAS A STAIRCASE THAT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE LOCKED UP AND IT WASN’T. HE COULD HAVE HAD ACCESS TO THE APARTMENT. VIA THE STAIRCASE. SO ESSENTIALLY HE LET HIMSELF INTO THE APARTMENT HE KNEW THE GIRLFRIEND WASN’T THERE BECAUSE HER CAR WAS GONE. AND SO HE WOULD HAVE KNOWN THAT THE COAST WAS CLEAR. 

Áine Cain: Roger Rivera had motive and opportunity. So, at the very beginning, the police did indeed look at him as a potential suspect. But that changed after he and his wife came in and told authorities that his son Jhun Ley Irorita was the real killer. The couple claimed that all Rivera had done was help dispose of the body.

Kevin Greenlee: Jhun Ley did not know Helen. He did not have a discernible motive to kill her. He could not have known when he showed up that night that her girlfriend would not be there. But he was a drug user with a rap sheet who had threatened a woman in the past. Because of that, he seemed like an ideal suspect to the investigators. 

Áine Cain: So the police took Rivera at his word. 

Christian Enright: TO BE FAIR, THEY DID RUN HIM THROUGH A LIE DETECTOR. I DON'T PUT ANY STOCK IN LIE DETECTORS. I THINK THE POLICE CAN MAKE THEM SAY WHATEVER THEY WANT. SO THAT’S WHY LIE DETECTORS AREN'T ADMISSIBLE AT LEAST IN HAWAII. THEY’RE JUST TOO SUBJECTIVE. BUT HE DID PASS A LIE DETECTOR WHICH WAS VERY CONVENIENT FOR POLICE. BUT IT WAS ALSO THROUGH AN INTERPRETER AND SO FORTH AND THERE’S ALL SORT OF RESEARCH WHICH SAYS YOU CAN’T TRUST THAT.

Podcast promo.

Áine Cain: Let’s take a quick break to share the promo for one of our favorite true crime podcasts, the Trail Went Cold with Robin Warder.

Robin Warder: Hello everyone, this is Robin Warder, host of the true crime podcast The Trail Went Cold. If you grew up watching the classic television show Unsolved Mysteries, then this is the podcast for you. Each week, I profile a new unsolved murder or missing persons case and share all the baffling details. Afterward, I provide my own personal analysis and theories about what may have happened. This is a a show for true crime buffs who are fascinated by cold cases and love to discuss them and pick them apart in an attempt to figure out the truth. So be sure to check out our podcast to find out about some truly bizarre unsolved mysteries where the Trail Went Cold.

The Trail Went Cold 's spooky, synth-y theme song plays. Podcast promo ends.

Áine Cain: And now, back to the Murder Sheet.

Kevin Greenlee: A rather important witness also supported Rivera’s story.

Christian Enright: THE MOTHER BACKED UP WHAT THE FATHER WAS SAYING. IN MY OPINION IT WAS HALF HEARTED. 

Áine Cain: And perhaps she had another reason to lie. When Helen's girlfriend entered their apartment, she told Hawaii News Now that she was struck by the strong smell of an unfamiliar cleaning solution.

Christian Enright: SO THE MOTHER WAS A HOUSEKEEPER AT THE HOTELS. THAT’S KIND OF A COMMON OCCUPATION FOR FILIPINO IMMIGRANTS. THIS APARTMENT AS I SAID BEFORE HAD BEEN CLEANED TOP TO BOTTOM. SO YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE IF YOU’RE GOING TO BUY THE PROSECUTION’S CASE THAT JHUN LEY SHOWED UP OUT OF THE BLUE FOR NO REAL REASON — HE DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THE WOMAN —  HE DIDN’T KNOW THE TENANT AT ALL- SHOWED UP IN THE POURING RAIN AND SOMEHOW GOT INTO HER APARTMENT — PRESUMABLY BROKE IN SOMEHOW. MURDERED HER IN A BRUTAL FASHION BECAUSE THERE WAS BLOOD EVERYWHERE AND HER REMAINS SHOWED SHE WAS MOST LIKELY BLUDGEONED. LOADED UP THE BODY GOT IT OUT TO HIS TRUCK. MANAGED TO CLEAN THE APARTMENT FROM TOP TO BOTTOM,  MORE OR LESS SPIC AND SPAN. AND THEN FOR SOME REASON GOES TO WAKE UP HIS DAD TO SAY I NEED HELP GETTING THE BODY FROM THE GROUND INTO THE PICKUP TRUCK. THE WOMAN ONLY WEIGHS ABOUT 100 POUNDS. AND JHUN LEY IS A BIG GUY- ABOUT 6'2 — HE COULD HAVE EASILY DONE IT HIMSELF. AND HIS PARENTS BASICALLY COVERED UP FOR HIM FOR WEEKS. IT JUST DIDN’T MAKE THE LEAST BIT OF  SENSE. IT WAS OBVIOUS AT THE VERY LEAST THAT THERE WAS MORE THAN ONE PERSON INVOLVED.  

Kevin Greenlee: There seemed to be many avenues the police should have explored, things they should have tried to find out about what happened between Roger Rivera and his wife and Helen Prestosa. But Enright says that’s not what they did. 

Christian Enright: THE POLICE GOT THIS SINGLE-MINDED FOCUS ON THE SON. YOU KNOW, HE CHECKS ALL THE BOXES. SO THEY PUT BLINDERS ON. AND THEY DIDN’T ENTERTAIN THE POSSIBILITY.YOU KNOW THEY NEEDED THE DAD AS A WITNESS. THE CASE GOES AWAY IF HE’S NOT CREDIBLE. I CAN SEE FROM THE DETECTIVE’S POINT OF VIEW WHY YOU DON'T WANT TO ASK TOO MANY QUESTIONS BECAUSE YOUR CASE GOES UP IN SMOKE. AND THEN I MENTIONED EARLIER THAT THAT DETECTIVE RETIRED AND HANDED IT OFF TO A ROOKIE. WHO WASN’T ABOUT TO QUESTION WHAT THE VETERAN WAS DOING.. AND IT WAS ON THE NEWS, A HIGH PUB CASE, THEY FOUND HER BODY DUMPED ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD. IT'S THE KIND OF PERSON THAT YOU'D WANT — YOU THINK IT WOULD MERIT SOME CLOSER ATTENTION. IF YOU ASK, CERTAIN PEOPLE WOULD TELL YOU IT WAS BECAUSE SHE WAS PROBABLY MAYBE AN IMMIGRANT OR SHE WAS GAY. I DON'T KNOW. I DON'T KNOW WHY IT DIDN’T RATE. IT GOT REAL SHORT SHRIFT FROM THE POLICE. 

Áine Cain: There was another factor that could have influenced how this case was handled. The homicide detective who began looking into Helen Prestosa’s disappearance and murder retired halfway through the investigation. The prosecutor on the case also retired right after trying Irorita.

Christian Enright: WHEN YOU CAN SEE THE FINISH LINE — WHEN YOU'VE WORKED THE JOB THIRTY, THIRTY-FIVE YEARS — YOU’VE DONE A BUNCH OF THESE MURDER INVESTIGATIONS, A BUNCH OF THESE MURDER PROSECUTIONS, YOU JUST WANT TO GET THIS ONE IN THE BOOKS. YOU HAVE A SUSPECT. YOU HAVE HIS DAD AND HIS MOM TESTIFYING AGAINST HIM. IT JUST LOOKS LIKE A SLAM DUNK. THE DETECTIVE IS PROBABLY LIKE — HE CRACKED THE CASE. SO HE PROBABLY PATTED HIMSELF ON THE BACK AND MOVED ON. AND THE PROSECUTOR THE SAME WAY. IT WAS HIS LAST PROSECUTION AND HE PROBABLY THOUGHT IT WOULD BE A LOT EASIER THAN IT TURNED OUT TO BE. AND YOU DON’T NECESSARILY BRING THE SAME EFFORT YOU DID IN YOUR YOUNGER DAYS. 

Kevin Greenlee: And it also didn’t help that Jhun Ley wouldn’t make much of an effort to help himself. 

Christian Enright: NOW THE SON NEVER MADE A STATEMENT, NEVER ADMITTED IT. NEVER DENIED IT. EVEN TO THIS DAY. NEVER SAID ONE WAY OR THE OTHER. HE SAID HE DIDN’T DO IT BUT HE WOULDN'T SAY IF HE WAS INVOLVED OR WHAT HAPPENED OR ANYTHING. HE WAS JUST KIND OF QUIET ABOUT IT. SO I SUSPECTED MAYBE HE WAS TAKING THE RAP FOR HIS FATHER AND IT STARTED TO GET REAL, REAL STRANGE, FRANKLY. 

Podcast promo.

Áine Cain: Let’s take a quick break from The Murder Sheet to tell you about a podcast investigating yet another unforgettable crime. 

The Orange Tree is a seven-part series about a 2005 homicide that happened near the University of Texas at Austin. The murder of 21-year-old Jennifer Cave, who was shot, dismembered, and left in a bathtub at her friend Colton Pitonyak’s apartment, continues to haunt the area to this day.

Kevin Greenlee: Like the Burger Chef murders, this case features plenty of twists and turns, including Colton’s flight to Mexico with another UT student Laura Hall. Both were later convicted in connection with the crime, although Colton has continued to appeal his verdict and claim innocence. The business student-turned-convicted-murderer now says that he doesn’t remember much about the night Jennifer died. 

Áine Cain: The Orange Tree is reported on and produced by Haley Butler and Tinu Thomas, who were both seniors at the University of Texas when they started the project.

Together, Haley and Tinu strive to piece together this tragic story in an in-depth podcast that features audio from courtroom scenes and interrogation rooms, prison phone calls, and exclusive interviews with both perpetrators and the victim’s family.

You can binge all seven episodes of The Orange Tree today on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. And now, back to the Murder Sheet.

And now, back to the Murder Sheet.

Podcast promo ends.

Áine Cain: But where was Helen Prestosa? Around two years after she vanished, her loved ones learned the truth. 

In April of 2016, clean-up volunteers scaled Tantalus, the O’ahu mountain that looms over Honolulu. The mountain was named for the mythological Greek king, who was cursed to be forever thirsty and hungry for offending the gods. But answers that had long eluded investigators would soon become apparent to the cluster of volunteers. Picking up trash on a steep slope, they came across the skeletal remains of a woman. 

In March 2017, investigators announced that the remains belonged to Helen Prestosa. She had been badly beaten — her body had fractures to the neck, chest and face. Her body had been wrapped up in a sheet that also contained some items that had gone missing from her apartment. Those objects included a pillow, a pillowcase, a blanket, a television remote, a shoe, an iron, and a cellphone cover, according to Nelson Daranciang's 2019 report for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. If you’re interested in reading more about this case, you can access a full list of our sources in our show notes. 

Kevin Greenlee: By this point, Jhun Ley had already been indicted by a grand jury. His trial began in 2019. And one of the biggest surprises of the case lay just ahead. 

Christian Enright: SO WE GO TO TRIAL AND COME TO FIND OUT THAT — YOU KNOW THE PROSECUTORS HADN’T HAD TO DISCLOSE THIS — BUT THE DAD WAS A PSYCHOTIC, MENTALLY ILL AND HAD BEEN HOSPITALIZED AS RECENTLY AS THE YEAR BEFORE FOR HAVING VIOLENT PSYCHOTIC EPISODES. 

Áine Cain: This, of course, was the prosecution's star witness. And once he took the stand, it only took about 10 or 15 minutes before it became clear to everyone that there was something very, very wrong with Roger Rivera. 

Christian Enright: HE WOULD TAKE — WE’RE TALKING ABOUT VERY PRELIMINARY QUESTIONS. LIKE WHAT'S YOUR NAME? HOW OLD ARE YOU — YOU KNOW, JUST SORT OF INTRODUCING HIM TO THE JURY. AND THERE WOULD BE A LONG PAUSE WHERE HE IS JUST SORT OF STARING AT THE JURY. STARING AT THE DEFENDANT. OR KIND OF STARING OFF INTO SPACE AND THEN HE WOULD ANSWER THE QUESTION. THAT WENT ON FOR A LITTLE WHILE, MAYBE 10 MINUTES.  15 MINUTES. THEN ALL OF A SUDDEN HE STARTED TWITCHING AND KIND OF CONVULSING. AND THEN HE STARTED MOANING. VERY LOUD.  IT WAS AT THAT POINT THE JUDGE CALLED A RECESS. AND THE FAMILY — HIS WIFE AND HIS SISTER WERE IN A WITNESS ROOM OUTSIDE THE COURTROOM. SO THEY PUT HIM IN THIS WITNESS ROOM AND ME AND THE PROSECUTOR GO. I SAY, “WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS GUY?” AND THE PROSECUTOR DIDN’T KNOW. SO WE GO AND TALK WITH HIM. LIKE, "ARE YOU ABLE TO CONTINUE?" AND THAT’S WHEN HE BASICALLY WENT TO PIECES AND STARTED CONVULSING AND SCREAMING. I MEAN, TO THE POINT WHERE IT NEARLY CALLED A MISTRIAL BECAUSE THE JURY COULD HEAR  IT, EVERYONE IN THE COURTHOUSE COULD HEAR IT. EVERYONE WHO WAS AT LEAST ON THAT FLOOR. THE WIFE WAS SAYING, “CALL AN AMBULANCE, CALL AN AMBULANCE.” AN AMBULANCE CAME AND MANAGED TO TAKE HIM OUT THE BACK DOOR AND THE MEDIA WAS WAITING FOR HIM AT THE FRONT DOOR. YEAH. THAT’S WHAT HAPPENED THERE. ONE OF THE STRANGER THINGS  I’VE EVER SEEN IN COURT. 

Kevin Greenlee: At that point the prosecution became very interested in doing what they could to make the case go away.

Christian Enright: SO THEY OFFERED MR. IRORITA, THE DEFENDANT, THEY OFFERED HIM ASSAULT IN THE FIRST DEGREE. WHICH DOWNGRADED FROM A MURDER. THE MURDER WAS A CLASS A FELONY WHICH CARRIED A LIFE SENTENCE AND THE ASSAULT IN THE FIRST DEGREE IS A CLASS B FELONY WHICH CARRIES A MAXIMUM OF 10 YEARS. JHUN LEY HAD TWO OR THREE YEARS DOWN ALREADY. HE TOLD ME HE WOULD TAKE IT ON THE CONDITION HE COULD PLEAD NO CONTEST. BECAUSE HE WASN’T GOING TO ADMIT ANY KIND OF GUILT. SO THEY SAID, "OK HE COULD PLEAD NO CONTEST TO ASSAULT." SO ULTIMATELY HE TOOK THAT DEAL AND THE CASE RESOLVED MID-TRIAL. AND HE WAS SENTENCED TO THE 10 YEARS AND HE IS IN PRISON RIGHT NOW.

Áine Cain:
This did not please anyone. Not the public, not the victims’ loved ones, not the media, not the defense, not the prosecution, not even the jury. 

Christian Enright: NOBODY WAS SATISFIED. EVERYBODY — THEY WERE ALL DISGUSTED.

Kevin Greenlee:
One member of the jury told Hawaii News Now that they “felt that justice was not served in this case for Helen.” There were so many unanswered questions and it felt at the end of the day that no one paid much of a cost for killing Helen Prestosa.

Christian Enright:
YOU KNOW AGAIN I’M THE DEFENSE ATTORNEY BUT IT’S HARD TO DIVORCE YOURSELF FROM THE REALITY OF THE SITUATION WHICH IS THAT AN INNOCENT PERSON WAS MURDERED AND WHOEVER DID IT, WHETHER IT WAS THE DEFENDANT OR THE DAD OR SOME OTHER PERSON — WHOEVER DID IT ESSENTIALLY SKATED. THAT’S NOT SOMETHING THAT’S LOST ON ME . NOBODY THOUGHT JUSTICE WAS SERVED IN MY OPINION. IT WAS NOT THE SORT OF THING YOU WOULD WISH ON ANYBODY. 

Áine Cain: Helen —and those who loved her — deserved better.

Christian Enright: FOR WHATEVER REASON THIS DOESN’T SEEM TO RATE — I MEAN MAYBE IT WAS JUST THE PERFECT STORM OF OLD TIMERS RETIRING AND STUFF JUST SORT OF FALLING THROUGH THE CRACKS. THAT MIGHT BE IT. IT MIGHT HAVE ALL LINED UP IN SUCH A WAY THAT VERY SERIOUS MISTAKES WERE MADE OVER AND OVER. AND HOPEFULLY THAT STUFF IS THE EXCEPTION TO THE RULE. 

Kevin Greenlee: Helen Prestosa was a cancer survivor, a provider for her family — a force of nature. And the pain caused by her disappearance has continued to trickle through the years. Speaking to KHON2 News in 2017, Helen’s mother said that she keeps a shrine of fresh flowers in her daughter’s old room. She cries whenever she waters them. 

But Helen was also a gay Filipino immigrant working in fast food. Did her identity prompt authorities to get sloppy and bring a shaky case to trial? On-the-stand breakdowns during witness testimony are the stuff of movies and TV shows, but they’re a rarity in real life.

Áine Cain: And Rivera’s actions in court leave us asking the question: with all the circumstantial evidence pointing away from Irorita, is the right man in prison today? Was the accused murderer’s reluctance to participate in his own defense a sign of a guilty conscience? Or was Irorita, in his own way, atoning for the years of distress he brought his family?

Murder trials are often thought of us as a chance to bring clarity to both the public and the loved ones of a victim. But the stream of questions unleashed by Irorita’s day in court has left the death of Helen Prestosa as cloudy as the gloom of a hard Honolulu rain.

Rain sounds trail off.

Kevin Greenlee:  Thanks for listening to this episode of the Murder Sheet. Special thanks to Kevin Tyler Greenlee, who composed the music for the Murder Sheet, and who you can find on the web at kevintg.com.  

Áine Cain:
To keep up with the latest on the Murder Sheet, make sure to follow us on Instagram and Twitter @murdersheet and on Facebook @msheetpodcast or by searching Murder Sheet. For exclusive content like bonus episodes and case files, become a patron of the Murder Sheet on Patreon.

If you enjoyed listening to the Murder Sheet, please leave us a five star review to help us gain more exposure. And send tips, suggestions, and feedback to [email protected]. Thanks so much for listening.