Tone Pulou sentenced to 28 months in student rape case
Associate Justice Lyle L Richmond and Associate Judge Mamea Sala Jr have sentenced Tone Pulou, the former teacher who pled guilty to raping his 13-year old student, to serve 28 months in jail.
The rape count is punishable with a term of five to 15 years in jail.
The sentence is less than either the defendant’s lawyer or government’s prosecutor had asked the court to impose. The ‘ifoga’ — the traditional cultural forgiveness on behalf of the victim’s family was not noted as a mitigating factor in the lighter sentencing by the judges.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Assistant Public Defender Mike White, representing the defendant, recommended that Pulou should be jailed from eight to ten years. White noted that the victim is blameless in this case and the entire burden falls on his client.
White told the court he spoke with the victim’s mother who asked for only two things — that the defendant not have any further contact with the victim; and that the sentence, whatever it is, “should be fashioned for a lengthy period so the victim can complete her education without any interference from the defendant.”
Deputy Attorney General Mitzie Jessop Folau asked the court to sentence Pulou to the maximum allowable under the law which is 15 years, noting the victim was a 13-year old student, with the defendant in a “position of authority and he abused that authority as a teacher and took advantage of the victim, who did not know better.”
Last week Wednesday, Pulou offered his apologies to the court, the government, his church, his spiritual parents, his family, siblings and his parents for his actions. He also apologized to the victim and her family and told the court he is truly remorseful and he would abide by the law and not commit any further crimes.
Following his apologies, the defendant asked the court for a second chance so he can return home and continue his service to the church and his village, care for his family and parents, especially now that he has an additional responsibility as the father to a baby boy.
“Please give me the opportunity to return home so I can provide for my son,” pleaded Pulou.
During the sentencing yesterday Richmond said a lot of discussion took place pertaining to this serious case.
“The defendant had a promising future, however he made a terrible and a serious mistake,” said Richmond. The court then sentenced Pulou to ten years in jail, however execution of sentence was suspended under the condition that he serve 28 months in jail without any release unless by court order or for medical reasons.
Richmond ordered the defendant to pay restitution to the government for the additional funds the government had to spend getting him back to the territory.
The amount the defendant is to pay is $5,560.21 and this is to be paid in full within three years after his release from jail. The defendant is also ordered to pay child support of $100 monthly to the court registry.
Richmond noted that the child support will be underway a month after the defendant is gainfully employed. The Associate Justice also told the defendant the court will address a work release motion once the defendant is gainfully employed.
The defendant is also ordered to register as a sex offender and undergo HIV testing as required by law. He is also ordered to remain a law-abiding citizen and must visit the probation office regularly once he’s released from jail.
After the sentencing hearing, Folau told Samoa News that she would have preferred “the defendant be sentenced to 15 years in jail… and given a much longer period than the 28 months he’ll be serving.
“However I understand why the court moved to jail him for 28 months given the restitution of $5,560.21 he has to pay along with the child support he must pay, and he cannot do that while he’s incarcerated.
“I understand that the court is trying to balance all of that, while at the same time the defendant is punished for his actions.”
White, who represents Pulou, left the territory Tuesday evening on work-related business. Assistant Public Defender Leslie Cardin stepped in for yesterday’s sentencing.
Cardin told Samoa News, “We believe the sentence was fair, just, and consistent with what the Court has done previously in similar cases where a defendant has been charged with having sex with an underage girl.”
“The defense is satisfied with the Court's decision and with the criminal case concluded, hopes both families can now move forward and begin to heal,” said Cardin.
Pulou was initially charged by the government with rape, first degree sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child; however, in a plea deal with the government he pled guilty to rape while the government moved to dismiss the latter charges.
Samoa News understands that there are two types of rape charges — forcible sex and engaging in sex with an underage person. Pulou was charged with the latter.
Pulou admitted in court he had an ongoing relationship with his student which led to the girl’s pregnancy. He said during the plea hearing last month that he had sexual intercourse with his female student between September 2009 and February 2010.
The matter came to light when the female student and her mother went to see the OBGYN clinic at LBJ Medical Center only to find out she was pregnant, at which time Child Protective Services with the Department of Human Social Services was contacted.
Pulou fled the territory to Australia last year when the government moved to file criminal charges. In October 2011, when Pulou visited relatives in Hawai’i, he was arrested by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents based on a warrant issued by the local District Court.