A 20-year-old woman who died under “suspicious circumstances” in 2011 was murdered, police said Friday.
The victim, Sommer Ferreira of Hilo, was the mother of an 18-month-old toddler who was brutally slain eight months earlier.
The suspect in toddler Pomaika‘i K. Ferreira’s murder, Xavier “Pee Wee” Cortez Jr., is in jail awaiting trial on a charge of second-degree murder. Cortez shared an apartment with the mother and daughter.
“We believe we know who did this (killed Sommer Ferreira),” County Prosecutor Mitch Roth said Friday, “but at this stage, because we haven’t charged anyone with anything, we can’t say. … We would rather try this in court than in the press.”
Roth credited the break in the case to the hard work of Deputy Prosecutor Joseph Lee, who has been with the prosecutor’s office for 10 months, and to the continued efforts of the Hawaii Police Department.
“We’ve made a conscious effort to look at these older cases with a fresh set of eyes. … In the last year we’ve asked for and seen a lot of different scientific evidence, and a lot of different forensic evidence has been uncovered,” Roth said.
Police said Friday that Sommer Ferreira’s death on Sept. 20, 2011, had been reclassified as a murder from a coroner’s inquest, and that the case had then been handed over to the prosecutor.
In January, Roth said that Ferreira had died under “suspicious circumstances” and that Cortez was a suspect.
On Jan. 2, 2011, police received a report that Pomaika‘i Ferreira had been taken to Hilo Medical Center and was experiencing difficulty breathing. She was transferred by air ambulance to the Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu, where she died on Jan. 9, 2011.
The medical examiner who performed the autopsy on the girl ruled the death a homicide due to injuries caused by repetitive abusive head trauma.
Cortez, a former professional boxer who lived in the same Riverside Apartments unit at 333 Ohai St. with Ferreira and her daughter, was initially arrested on suspicion of first-degree assault on the day of the incident. He was later released pending further investigation by police detectives.
Cortez was arrested in January in the death of the toddler after police said they received a tip. He was taken into custody without incident at a home in the Livingston subdivision in Mountain View.
The 38-year-old pleaded not guilty in the beating death of Pomaika‘i Ferreira after he was charged with second-degree murder in a sealed indictment by a Hilo grand jury on Jan. 22.
He is currently awaiting trial, set to begin Oct. 20 in front of Judge Greg Nakamura.
In addition to a Nevada conviction for child neglect, court records indicate Cortez has at least six misdemeanor convictions in Hawaii, including one for domestic abuse. He was on probation when the deaths of both the toddler and her mother took place.
Email Colin M. Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org.