HILO, Hawai'i — Daysha Aiona-Aka kept a photographic record of her baby's first years that was nearly as complete as her journals.
Photo: Jeff Widener:
Some of Daysha Aiona-Aka’s siblings gathered recently near the home where Daysha lived before she
was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, Jeffrey Boyd Santos Jr. From left: Cody, 13; Breeanna, 16; and
HILO, Hawai'i — Daysha Aiona-Aka kept a photographic record of her baby's first years that was nearly as complete as her journals. She carefully assembled photos in a scrapbook bearing the title "Love Lasts Forever," and wrote captions explaining each photo. She tucked away movie ticket stubs, hotel stationery from places they visited and memorabilia from the trips they made to Kona.
The pictures of her boyfriend, Jeffrey Santos Jr., always identify him as "Daddy," and he is shown whooping it up in Kona, playing "airplane" by swinging his wide-eyed son around in Hawaiian Beaches, or kicking back in shades with an arm thrown around Daysha.
Daysha puzzled over Jeffrey in her journal entries, wondering why they were fighting more than ever after Day'Rey's birth. Daysha believed Jeffrey could be a good father and a good husband, and had hoped the baby would make them grow closer.
She wrote: "I don't know what bugs him and what goes on out there before he comes home, but some days he has so much anger filled up in him. I'm so clueless what causes him to get upset at me."
After Jeffrey turned 21, Daysha would get irritated when he would go out drinking with friends, leaving her home with the baby. She also worried about the weight she had gained during pregnancy. "I can't dress the same, but that shouldn't make him not love me anymore."
"He hardly ever is in a good mood. It hurts so much to see your spouse so unhappy when I give him all I've got. I can buy him anything, give him space for golfing, I treat him to a restaurant, but nothing can make him fulfilled with joy. I love him so much, but I love Day'Rey more, and if I have to step back for the sake of our son, I will take action," she wrote.
Days after that journal entry, the violence in the relationship finally caused their living arrangement in the house they shared in Hilo with Daysha's sister, Cassie Kamai, to unravel.
Jeffrey and Daysha were both working, and Daysha's grandparents; her sister, Cassie; and Cassie's husband took Day'Rey to watch a holiday parade. When Jeffrey got home, he became angry. "He just didn't like the fact of her or the baby doing anything with us," Cassie said.
Daysha returned home, and the couple began to fight in their room. As Daysha described it, "he smashed his Nachos Bellgrande into my face with jalapenos and hot sauce! Oh, it pissed me off and I attacked him and he pushed me down and we were fighting."
Cassie was in the next room. "I could hear him hitting her and throwing things; he threw food at her, the baby was on the bed," Cassie said. "I went in there, I was yelling and screaming, and then my husband got involved. After that, I called the police. She didn't want to do anything; she didn't pursue it."
Cassie called their grandparents, Bev and Tommy Akimseu, to come down to the house. Tommy told Jeffrey, "Don't hit women, if you get mad, go outside, hit something else." The police took Jeffrey from the house for a two-day cooling off period.
Daysha's blouse was ripped, there was food thrown all over the bedroom, and everyone tried to reason with her. They told Daysha, "Why do you want to do this to yourself? You have to think of the baby."
"I'm never going to forget that day," Cassie said. "We're trying to talk to her and she's just making excuses and excuses. ... She never blamed him for anything. Either it was her fault, or she made an excuse."
Writing in her journal later, Daysha was critical of Cassie. "Instead they mind their own business, they called the cops," she wrote. Jeffrey was angry at having to leave for a cooling off period because he had never before slept apart from his baby, "and he was sad and he was then sorry for what he had done," Daysha wrote.
Sorry or not, Cassie refused to allow Jeffrey back into the house, so Daysha and the baby moved out with him. They lived at Jeffrey's father's home in Hawaiian Beaches for a brief time, and then rented another home in Puna for their little family.
Threats, violence at santos home
Jeffrey Santos Jr. grew up in a violent home, with his parents leaving a trail of documentation of their problems in Family Court and Circuit Court files. Jeffrey was the youngest of four children, and the first request on file for a restraining order involving his parents, Darnelle Pacheco and Jeffrey Santos Sr., dates to 1982.
In it, Jeffrey's mother alleges Jeffrey's father accused her of seeing another man, pointed a gun at her in the presence of their children, and said that "he would shoot me, then the kids, then himself."
That was a year before Jeffrey Jr. was born, but court records show the threats and violence in the household continued. Jeffrey's mother again filed to seek court protection from Jeffrey's father in 1990, 1991 and 1993.
In the 1993 filing Jeffrey's mother wrote that Jeffrey Sr. had slapped her on both sides of her head, and "I feel that he might do something more serious to me if I don't get a restraining order because he abused me in the past many times."
Among other things, that filing alleged Jeffrey's father broke two telephones in the family home during an argument, a behavior Jeffrey Jr. would repeat years later when he smashed cellular telephones during his fights with Daysha.
Jeffrey Jr. was the only boy in the family and struggled in school, ending up in the special education program at Waiakea High School. He left Waiakea in his freshman year to be home-schooled after he alleged a female teacher made improper sexual advances toward him during what was supposed to be a tutoring session in a classroom in 1999.
The teacher denied the incidents, but other students knew about the allegations, and embarrassing false rumors circulated that Jeffrey had a sexual relationship with the teacher, according to a lawsuit filed by Jeffrey's family over the incident. Jeffrey finished the school year at home, and the lawsuit was settled in 2001.
Jeffrey and Daysha were introduced when Daysha arrived at Waiakea High as a freshman. Daysha was 15, and Jeffrey was almost two years older.
Almost from the very beginning, Jeffrey's relationship with Daysha was violent, according to police reports, court records and Daysha's journal entries. But Daysha also explained in her journal that she loved Jeffrey, that she believed he could change.
Daysha's family is angry and wounded by the loss of Daysha, but even now most family members do not try to paint Jeffrey Jr. as an evil person.
Daysha's sister, Cassie, called police when Jeffrey Jr. was fighting with Daysha in 2004 and kicked him out of her house because of the violence, but she recalled: "I didn't always think of him as a bad person. He had good in him; he was respectful towards me. I would never, ever think he would do something like this, never. Abusive, but not killing her."
Bev Akimseu, Daysha's grandmother, took out a restraining order to keep Jeffrey Jr. away from Daysha when Daysha was 17, but she also recalled how years later Jeffrey would arrive to pick up his son after work, and politely thank her for baby sitting for the couple.
"He was very attentive as a father. He would take care of him, change him; that's why I thought that he loved the child so much he wouldn't take the mother away from his child," Bev said. "He was very quiet, he acted very shy and quiet, but he always respected us."
Jeffrey Jr. and his family did not respond to requests for interviews.
Jeffrey worked on a macadamia nut farm near Hilo, and a co-worker describes him as almost boyish. Jeffrey and he would leap off their tractors on their breaks and launch into footraces to the soda machine in the warehouse. The winner was required to buy a soda for the loser.
They would drive tractors down the rows in the orchard, mowing, spraying chemicals and harvesting nuts by hand, and at times they would set traps for wild pigs. They killed some and gave away the meat, and other times gave away the small pigs, including a piglet Jeffrey gave to Daysha's grandfather to raise in the backyard in Waiakea.
Jeffrey was quiet, usually smiling, a reliable employee who would work without complaint, rain or shine. He spoke with a slight nervous stutter when he needed to ask a question at work, but stayed focused on the job and his training. Before taking the job at the macnut farm he had worked at a gas station, and he obviously liked the outdoors.
"I never did see the bad side of him, I never did see him angry with one of us," said the co-worker, who spoke on condition that his name not be used because he did not want to anger Daysha's family in a small-town setting like Hilo.
The co-worker recalled hearing Jeffrey end phone conversations with Daysha by telling her he loved her, and "he loved his little boy, too," the co-worker said. "He used to like how the little boy used to hang around him."
Then one morning in 2006, the macnut crews were gathered around the picnic table in the warehouse, waiting for their job orders. Jeffrey arrived, and the boss cheerfully told him, "Good morning, Jeff." Jeffrey then announced to the group, 'Oh, man, I got one TRO,' " or temporary restraining order.
The rest of the workers were startled. As they began talking and asking questions, Jeffrey sat down in a cloth-covered chair some distance from the picnic table. He was smiling and shaking his head "like he knew he did something wrong," the co-worker said.
That mild public face Jeffrey displayed at work was utterly contradicted by journals and other writings of Daysha, her careful script describing a violent anger that Jeffrey directed at her when no one else could see.
In a Family Court filing, Daysha described the events of the night that led to that restraining order. Daysha said she came home from work at about 7:30 p.m. "and we started to argue and it got physically abusive."
"He grabbed me by my hair and dragged me around the parlor, kicking me in my head and back. I fought back and tried to defend myself but he kept coming back at me.
"He pinned me up against the wall and choked my neck. He threw several objects at me and refused to let me leave the house. He also put his hand over my face and shoved me into whatever was near (couch, ground). He continuously kept punching me on my head leaving a lump for weeks.
"There are so many incidents of physical abuse over the past six years there is not enough space" to describe them all, Daysha wrote.
Kevin Dayton came to The Honolulu Advertiser in 1997 as the capitol bureau reporter. Previously he worked at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, the Associated Press, Tucson Citizen and Arizona Daily Star. He holds a master’s degree in political science from the University of Hawaii and an undergraduate degree from the University of Arizona.
Jeff Widener has been a photographer at The Honolulu Advertiser since 1997. He is best known for his now famous image of a lone man confronting a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square during the 1989 Beijing riots for which he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1990.