HILO, Hawai'i — Jeffrey Santos Jr. got off to an awful start with his girlfriend's father. It was so bad that her father, Stoney Aiona-Aka, punched Jeffrey in the head during one of their first meetings.
Stoney had split up with Daysha Aiona-Aka's mother when Daysha was 1, and Stoney left for Las Vegas. When he finally returned to the Big Island, Daysha was 17, and Stoney was eager to get to know his grown daughter.
He visited the surf shop where Daysha worked in the mall, sent her letters and called on the telephone, but Daysha wouldn't meet with him, and wasn't sure what to do. "Why now?" Daysha wrote in her journal later that year. "All of a sudden he walks into my life."
"I was afraid and scared of him, and I was told only bad stories about him," she wrote in her description of the meeting. "Then one day I woke up and I realized he is my father, biologically, and nothing will ever change that. He is the reason why I am here."
Daysha finally contacted Stoney, and went with a girlfriend to meet him for the first time at the Hilo bay-front area in 2003. They talked, tried to get to know each other, and made plans to meet again.
Daysha would tell Jeffrey when she was going to see Stoney, but Jeffrey was suspicious. Once when Stoney and Daysha were visiting and talking, Jeffrey repeatedly called Daysha's phone, interrupting. Finally, Stoney took the phone from Daysha and answered it for her. Jeffrey told him, "Oh, OK, have fun with your daughter."
Stoney and Jeffrey quickly clashed when Daysha took her boyfriend along to visit Stoney. Stoney was startled to look over to see Jeffrey seated on the living room couch, staring hard at him and sticking out his middle finger for no apparent reason.
Daysha tried to get Jeffrey to stop. Stoney, who admits he has a quick temper, warned Jeffrey to "show some respect before I pound your ass." Angry, Stoney walked out to the garage. Jeffrey followed, mocking Stoney, calling out, "Don't walk and talk."
When Stoney stripped off his shirt, Jeffrey suddenly turned around and ran back into the living room, which is where Stoney caught him. Stoney punched him once in the head, and Jeffrey curled up and stayed down. "One hit, that was all it took, and he went drop," Stoney said. "Then, I tell you, he went respect me."
The two men got past it, somehow. Jeffrey socialized with Stoney and his family at parties, and Daysha met and became close to her brother and sisters who also moved to the Big Island from Las Vegas. They were Stoney's son, Cody, and daughters Breeanna and Ashton.
Daysha would take the girls shopping, and Jeffrey took Cody and the girls riding dirt bikes and ATVs almost every weekend, welcome diversions for three kids new to Hawai'i. Jeffrey would pick them up after school or on weekends, and the group would head out to ride in an isolated area of Kea'au or to Quarry Road some distance off the Stainback Highway.
Ashton Aiona-Aka, 17, said Jeffrey would get mad sometimes, but he was nice to her, Cody and Breeanna. The girls once told Jeffrey they loved him and looked up to him as a big brother, thanked him for spending time with them, and thanked him for bringing their nephew, Day'Rey, into the world.
Jeffrey replied that he loved them, too. The girls also talked about Daysha and Day'Rey, and asked Jeffrey "just to promise that he'll always love them and never hurt them. He said 'I promise,' " Ashton said.
Daysha never told Stoney directly that Jeffrey was abusing her, but once Daysha called Stoney in the middle of one of their fights, and Stoney warned Jeffrey over the phone that he would leave Kona and drive across the island to pound Jeffrey if he didn't leave Daysha alone.
Daysha seemed more confident when she was around Stoney, and it made her act differently. Once Daysha and Jeffrey joined Stoney and his co-workers at the broken lava rock coastline at Pohoiki, where the crew would go to drink, and Stoney saw Daysha punch Jeffrey.
"She hit him right in the ear. Oh, I felt bad," Stoney said. "I told her, 'Daysha, that wasn't nice.' She always got brave when I was around. She said, 'Now, I don't have to be scared anymore.' "
Sticking up for her sisters
Daysha was not a timid person by nature. Her grandmother, Bev Akimseu, describes Daysha as "a little toughie," and her brother, Waylen Leopoldino, remembers how Daysha sometimes took matters into her own hands when Waylen hassled her and interrupted her card games when they were kids.
For Daysha's sisters, Ashton and Breeanna, who were disoriented after arriving at the Puna public schools from Las Vegas, Daysha was a blessing.
"As soon as she met us, she just had our back," Ashton said. When the girls were having problems at school, they would call Daysha, and she would immediately ask if they needed her to come get them.
Once when Daysha was collecting Breeanna from intermediate school, a bigger girl was teasing Breeanna about being short. The girl followed Breeanna to Daysha's car, asking Breeanna, "How tall are you, like, 2 foot?" Breeanna was in tears by the time she got in the car.
When Daysha learned what was happening, Breeanna recalled, "my sister got out of the car and she said '2 foot? What, you like your ass be 2 foot?' " The startled bully turned to face the advancing Daysha, thought better of it, and took off around the corner of a school building.
As Daysha's relationship with her sisters grew, they became protective of her as well. Once Ashton was shopping with Jeffrey, Daysha and Day'Rey in the Hilo Wal-Mart, and Jeffrey suddenly began making nasty comments about the way Daysha was dressed.
She had on a pretty pink blouse, jeans and white high heels, Ashton said. "It was like he didn't want her to dress the way she did; she always dressed pretty. He would yell at her for the way she dressed because people were probably staring at her and checking her out."
"I can dress however I want," Daysha replied, and continued walking in front of Jeffrey at the entrance of the store. Jeffrey, who was pushing a shopping cart with Day'Rey seated inside, rammed her with the cart. Ashton was so incensed that she punched Jeffrey with a closed fist.
Daysha wrote in her journal that she didn't want to make a scene in the store, but when they got to the car, Jeffrey began to yell.
"He kept calling her names like a whore and a slut, and she didn't do anything," Ashton said. Ashton finally leaned forward from the back seat to reach between Jeffrey and Daysha, and cranked up the music to drown out Jeffrey's shouting.
"The baby don't need to hear it. I didn't want to hear it, and she definitely didn't want to hear it, that's kind how we got him to shut up," Ashton said. "Whatever works."
People who knew Jeffrey agreed he didn't drink much or use hard drugs, but according to court records and police reports he was a daily marijuana user, and often kept a bong in his truck.
Ashton said Jeffrey would get stoned whenever they went ATV riding down in an overgrown old quarry off Stainback Highway that is ringed by a dirt path. He would also bring his .22-caliber Taurus nine-shot revolver, and would shoot at piles of rocks or cans or an old dryer.
It took the girls about five minutes to ride around the circular trail in the quarry, and sometimes they would hear gunshots over the noise of the motors.
When they rode back to Jeffrey, they asked about the shots. Jeffrey replied that he was just making noise, firing rounds into the air. "We used to find it funny, but it's not funny anymore," Breeanna said.
'A new beginning' for couple
When Daysha and Jeffrey first moved out of the Hilo house they had shared with her sister Cassie's family, Daysha had high hopes.
"Our family comes first, and now it's like a new beginning," she wrote. The Hilo house had been crowded, and she was pleased that the friction between her family and her sister's family would no longer be a problem.
Daysha and Jeffrey started seeing a counselor, and during their first session they agreed to stop calling each other names. Daysha admitted she slipped the day after the session and called Jeffrey a "dumbass," but predicted that "Jeffrey's abuse is going to stop. He's not a bad, harmful person. I am able to fight back!"
"There hasn't been any abuse or name calling from him, but he still has some major issues, like he's really insecure," she wrote. Jeffrey would call her cell phone the moment she was supposed to take a scheduled work break, and would call the work line if she did not pick up immediately.
He would ask where she was, and whose voice he could hear in the background. Daysha described it as "insanity."
They moved out of Jeffrey's father's house and into their own rented home in 'Ainaloa Estates in Puna, but by June 2005, Daysha was frustrated again.
The baby was almost a year old and "my relationship with his father is ripping right out. Our hearts aren't there, and I don't feel the same way like before. It's like we're in it just to raise our son, and no more. We don't respect each other or even care for each other like before. I have to say my life is seriously miserable and going downhill.
"Our son is the most important right now and forever, but I don't know what to do," she wrote. "I just don't want to live the lifestyle I'm living in right now. Being a parent is harder than I expected."
By late July, Daysha wrote a more desperate journal entry while Jeffrey slept in the next room. She said she was lucky to go for just a few days without being hit or having her hair pulled, and she described Jeffrey as a "vampire."
"He's took so much punches at me that I've never fought back as much as I ever wanted to," she wrote. "He's way tougher than me, and if I was to be harder than him, that would make him feel weak. So I'd get even more hurt so it ain't even a win-win situation. It's 'I' hit you, and 'you' stay as if you were a statue, and if you hit back, you'll get it 10 times worst. So now I don't even try.
"I take and take but don't distribute. I don't have enough energy, and if I look like a total mess the next day, I'm not going to have an explanation to give anyone because I cannot lie."
Friends who knew Daysha during the year that followed told police how Jeffrey would call Daysha foul names in front of other people. Another co-worker told police she knew Jeffrey was abusive, and described how Daysha seemed to be under stress. "Her hands would shake. Her hands would shake sometimes when you talk to her," the friend told police.
Daysha's brother, Cody, slept over at Daysha's house once, and later described for police how a fight erupted when Daysha cooked a dinner Jeffrey didn't like. She cooked a second meal, but Jeffrey was still angry and threw things at her. He grabbed Daysha and pushed her up against a wall, and she told Jeffrey to stop. The baby was crying, and Jeffrey told her she was "retarded."
In late July 2006, Jeffrey told Daysha that "he wants to kill and shoot my whole family," Daysha wrote in a court filing that fall.
Then on Aug. 11, 2006, Daysha came speeding up the driveway of her father Stoney's house in Hawaiian Paradise Park, disheveled and upset, and told Ashton to call the police because Jeffrey was hitting her. Ashton said the police told them to meet them at Daysha's house in 'Ainaloa, so Ashton and Daysha got in the car, and Daysha drove back home.
The police weren't there yet, and Jeffrey had locked them out. Jeffrey was in the bathroom with Daysha's cell phone, so Ashton climbed through the kitchen window and unlocked the door to let Daysha in. The baby was watching a movie in the bedroom, and the plan was to grab him and a few things and get out.
They didn't make it in time. Jeffrey emerged from the bathroom shouting and hitting Daysha and throwing toys at her, Ashton said. Ashton warned him to stop, and told him the police were on the way. Jeffrey seemed to panic at that news.
According to court records, Daysha's only visible injury when police arrived was a small scratch on her neck, but she told police Jeffrey had punched her in the head, shoved her against the wall and threw her to the ground.
Jeffrey was arrested that night for abuse of a family or household member, and his mother posted $1,000 bail to get him released, according to court records.