Maui News

Defendant, Kumulipo Sylva Takes Stand in Mall Murder Trial

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Murder defendant, Kumulipo Sylva took the stand in his own defense on Monday afternoon, according to court records.

The 24-year-old defendant is standing trial for the gruesome machete slaying of Eduardo Alejandro “Alex” Cerezo, a 35-year-old man from Makawao, in a mall bathroom on Maui last year.


The appearance on the stand came following testimony from a doctor and clinical psychologist who said Sylva exhibits one of the strongest examples of criminal irresponsibility saying there’s “tons of collateral evidence that state he was not criminally responsible.”

Criminal irresponsibility is defined in the Medical Dictionary by Farlex as: “the state, usually attributed to mental defect or disease, that renders a person not responsible for criminal conduct.”

State psychologist Melissa Vargo said Sylva was hospitalized three times in between November 2017 and January 2018, each time remaining hospitalized for 10 days before being released.  He had also sought emergency room help multiple times in between.

She explained that the hospitalizations occurred when he exhibited behavior that showed he presented acute danger to himself or others. One hospitalization was ordered when he cut his wrists while in the waiting room of a medical provider, showing signs of “suicidal ideations.”  During his second hospitalization, Vargo said, he wrapped a shoe string around his neck.


According to her testimony, Sylva was experiencing both hallucinations and delusions and reported “hearing voices from god and angels.”

“He believed he was sent by archangel Michael to extinguish demons,” and also believed he was being followed and “persecuted by the illuminati,” according to Vargo.

Vargo, who has been conducting mental health evaluations for over a dozen years, was assigned to prepare a forensic exam for Sylva to determine “penal responsibility and dangerousness.”

As part of the assessment, Vargo reviewed more than 1,500 pages of records in reference to Sylva. This included patient history of mental illness and a statement from Sylva’s brother which described significantly withdrawn behavior from family and friends.

There was also mention of a substantial difference in baseline functioning after a car accident in August of 2017.  According to Vargo’s testimony, after the car accident, “Sylva would stay up all night, screaming to demons in the night.”


The state psychologist said Sylva exhibited symptoms of Schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type, in which he was experiencing hallucinations and delusions, as well as mania and depression at the time of the incident.

Vargo testified that while hospitalized, Sylva believed he had telepathic abilities and could hear people’s thoughts within a 100 mile radius.  He also was reading the bible daily and showing signs of religious delusions, believing he was sent by God.

According to Vargo, Sylva also exhibited “delusions of grandeur,” in which he believed he had a special mission to accomplish.

According to testimony, Sylva went to the emergency room on multiple occasions saying he lost his medications or his backpack was stolen and he needed a refill.  Then, on Jan. 20, 2018, he went to the hospital where he requested a CT scan because he believed he was cured from mental illness and wanted to prove to doctors that he was no longer suffering from Schizoaffective disorder.

Vargo explained that individuals suffering from the condition can show a lack of insight or judgement and the person with the disorder often times is not aware that they have it.


During his third hospitalization, Vargo testified that Sylva continued to show evidence of a delusional disorder. According to testimony, he was observed talking to other patients about his “powers” and drew pictures with aliens, sketching the word “truth.”

He was discharged on January 30, but returned to the hospital multiple times asking for medication that he had reportedly lost.  According to testimony, Sylva returned to the hospital at least six times in February, sometimes within 24 hours of each other.

Vargo said Sylva was issued a prescription, but noted that anti-psychotic medication can take at least a month to a month-and-a-half to reach “therapeutic efficacy.”

On March 17, 2019, the day before the killing, Sylva reportedly went to the emergency room, “feeling
unstable, feeling persecuted and hearing voices,” according to testimony.   He reportedly told hospital staff he needed a refill on medication, and was not on his meds.  He was issued a prescription that required him to go to a pharmacy, but there was no monitoring to ensure compliance, since he was not a patient at that time.

According to the defense, on the day of the killing, “Sylva he did hear voices from god telling he he needed to vanish the demons, which compelled him to act that day.” And he “did not have the capacity to differentiate the delusional structure.”

After the killing, he abandoned his jacket and stashed the cane knife that was used, according to testimony. “He believed police officers were demons and he was running away from demons,” according to testimony.

After the killing, during incarceration, records from Maui Community Correctional Center showed Sylva suffered from signs of “acute or active psychosis,” according to Vargo.  On March 20, Sylva was reportedly interviewed by a psychiatrist and according to Vargo, Sylva “closed his eyes, put his hands up in the air and said he vanished a (inaudible) to fire and brimstone.”

She said those who suffer from Schizoaffective disorder can suffer forever, or go into remission as a final phase of their illness.  Vargo testified that she believes Sylva was in the “active” phase at the time of the killing, and remains in that phase currently.

She agreed with questioning asking if Sylva “lacks substantial capacity to perform conduct within the law.”

The state rested its case on Wednesday last week. The trial is scheduled to resume today.

Kumulipo Sylva (middle) with defense attorney Ben Lowenthal (in foreground partially obscured) and public defender Zach Raidmae (in background). Photo by Wendy Osher.

Kumulipo Sylva (10.21.19). Photo by Wendy Osher.

Clinical Psychologist Melissa Vargo testifies in the murder trial of Kumulipo Sylva (10.21.19). Photo by Wendy Osher.

Clinical Psychologist Melissa Vargo testifies in the murder trial of Kumulipo Sylva (10.21.19). Photo by Wendy Osher.


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