A local man pled guilty in court this week to charges stemming from a 2016 incident of abuse to his girlfriend’s then-3-year-old child in their home.
Jonah Kalawaia, 24, of Desloge, appeared in St. Francois County Court Thursday with Attorney Chris Hartmann and Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Courtney Goodwin appearing on behalf of the state.
The hearing was held less than a month before a jury trial was to take place in the case. During the hearing, Kalawaia withdrew his previous plea of not guilty and pleaded guilty to felony endangering the welfare of a child first-degree and two counts of felony abuse of a child resulting in physical injury.
Circuit Court Judge Wendy Wexler Horn then sentenced Kalawaia to spend a total of 12 years in prison, handing down a sentence of four years on each of the three counts to run consecutively.
The Grand Jury indictment was filed in March 2017, and Kalawaia was initially charged with a class A felony of assault in the first degree and a class C felony of endangering the welfare of a child.
According to a probable cause statement, on Dec. 29, 2016, the Desloge Police Department received a phone call from the victim’s grandfather. He told the police he learned that his granddaughter had been seen at the Parkland Health Center ER in Bonne Terre for injuries on Christmas Day 2016.
The grandfather told the officer the then-3-year-old girl was transferred to Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, and he explained that he heard the girl had several fractures and was in a body cast. The officer contacted the Division of Family Services (DFS) and confirmed there was an open investigation involving the child’s mother and Kalawaia.
A medical record involving the child was obtained by the St. Francois County Prosecutor’s Office and forwarded to the officer.
The report stated that the small child had a dislocated hip, reportedly from an accidental injury that occurred Dec. 23, 2016. The report also addressed a missing tooth and old bruising. Kalawaia reported that the child had fallen in the bathtub.
The report also included a prior case of reported abuse where Kalawaia had bitten the child, which resulted in the little girl being removed from the home for 50 days while the mother and Kalawaia received Children’s Division services.
The officer then spoke with the Children’s Division investigator who told the officer the little girl said Kalawaia hurt her.
Kalawaia’s mother was interviewed and she advised the officer that the little girl did slip in the tub. She also said Kalawaia had slapped the little girl in the face because he stepped in a pair of underwear in which she had defecated.
The witness was interviewed and she told the officer she saw the little girl with a black eye on Dec. 24, 2016, and that Kalawaia’s mother said he struck the girl. The witness told Kalawaia’s mother that the child needed to go to the hospital.
On Jan. 10, 2017, the officer contacted the victim’s grandmother, who had temporary custody of her and her sister at the time. The grandmother told the officer she had audio recordings of the girls talking about the abuse. She also told the officer that in June 2016, she had temporary custody of the girls for an assault in which Kalawaia had bitten both of the girls.
It was confirmed that the children were removed from the home at that time due to abuse. The grandmother added that she got married in April 2016, and the victim was supposed to be a part of the wedding. Her daughter, the victim’s mother, arrived at the wedding without the young girl.
When she was asked where the little girl was, she told the victim’s grandmother that she was out in the car with Kalawaia. The grandmother told her to get the young girl and her daughter told her not to “freak out.” When the victim came in, the girl had a black eye.
When asked about how the hip injury occurred, the victim’s sister is on a recording stating that Kalawaia saw feces on the floor of their home, got mad, and put the feces in the little girl’s mouth. He then took her to the bathroom and while in the bathroom, Kalawaia reportedly held the victim’s head underwater.
The grandmother also told the officer that there has been bruising on several different occasions and an agent with DFS had photographs that she gave them.
The child was hospitalized from Dec. 25-28, 2016, and was placed in protective care.
Once released from the hospital, the victim had to wear a hip brace and be moved around in a wheelchair. The grandmother told the officer the physicians said they were concerned the blood flow to the hip has been affected and there might be permanent injury.
The officer indicated concern that Kalawaia had custody of another child.
On Jan. 11, 2017, the officer spoke with Kalawaia, and he signed a waiver of rights form. He admitted to stepping in feces and said he got mad, held the messy pair of underwear in the little girl’s face, and struck her in the head. Kalawaia maintained an accident involving the bathtub had caused the hip injury.
Bobby Radford is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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