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Togiola asks AG to withdraw death penalty for Siaumau

reporters@samoanews.com

Governor Togiola Tulafono has asked the Attorney General’s office to withdraw the death penalty stipulation in the case against Siaumau Siaumau Jr. who is accused in the July 2010 shooting death of Police Detective Lt. Liusila Brown and attempted murder of another officer, according to reliable government sources.

Samoa News understands that Togiola, in his request to the AG’s office, said that American Samoa is a Christian country and does not need a death penalty.

Prosecuting this matter is Deputy Attorney General Mitzie Jessop Folau, who cannot be reached for a comment, as she is currently off island.

Siaumau Jr. has been charged with murder in the first degree, two counts of attempted murder in the first degree on distinct victims, three counts of assault in the first degree against distinct victims, three counts of unlawful possession of a firearm, two faculty distinct counts of unlawful possession of an unlicensed firearm and public peace disturbance.

A week after the shooting Deputy AG Folau filed the motion seeking the imposition of the death penalty should the defendant be convicted of first-degree murder. Folau in her motion said that sufficient circumstances exist to justify the imposition of the death penalty.

Samoa News was also told by reliable government sources that part of the move to take the death penalty off the table was because of the high cost of prosecuting such a case.

Last month, Associate Justice Lyle L Richmond and Associate Judge Mamea Sala Jr. issued an order approving $260,000 in defense costs “payable from sources other than the inadequate funding presently budgeted for the Public Defender’s office of the American Samoa Government.”

According to the court order, it’s the government’s notice of intent to seek the penalty of death in this case, however the potential result of a capital case puts the defendant’s life at stake and counsel representing the defendant must have the resources in terms of extensive personnel, equipment and supplies necessary to fully and thoroughly investigate and evaluate all aspects of the case in order to properly prepare and advocate the best possible defense strategy.

The order quoted American Bar Association (ABA) guidelines, which call for a defense team in Capital cases consisting of at least two qualified attorneys, an investigator and a mitigating expert.

The order goes on to state that experience with capital cases is unusual in American Samoa and the Public Defender’s office is not routinely funded to provide legal representation according to expected standards for such cases.

“The defense Counsel must be provided the assistance of all expert, investigative or other ancillary professional services reasonably necessary or appropriate to high quality legal representation at every stage of the proceedings” says the order.

In the meantime, the government has already spent close to $10,000 for the tuition, airfare, per diem and ground transportation for Assistant Public Defenders Leslie Cardin and Michael White, who are representing Siaumau Jr. and who both had certification to represent defendants in such cases. Cardin has since completed re-certification training, while White is currently attending the re-certification training and will be returning in two weeks.

Earlier this month, Deputy AG Folau filed a motion for the court to reconsider their order saying that $260,000 is not pocket change, and therefore it’s appropriate for the government to ask the court to reconsider its decision. The court has yet to make a ruling.

Samoa News should point out the move for the government to withdraw the death penalty was in negotiations before a letter to the editor — “Ua Ao Samoa” — was published on June 1, 2012, in the Samoa News. The letter, which was in the Samoan language, was signed by Stella Siaumau, an aunt of the defendant, who addressed Deputy AG Mitzie Jessop Folau, asking why Folau was adamant in her pursuit of the death penalty for her nephew, Siaumau Jr., and asked Folau to reconsider.

BACKGROUND

Under the law, whenever the death penalty is imposed in any case, and upon the judgment becoming final in the trial court, the sentence is reviewed on the record by the High Court of American Samoa.

According to the law, Title 46, Chapter 35:

The High Court considers the punishment as well as any errors listed by way of appeal.

With regard to the sentence, the High Court determines:

(1) Whether the sentence of death was imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice, or any other arbitrary factor; and

(2) whether the evidence supports the jury’s or judge’s finding of a statutory aggravating circumstance as listed in 46.3514; and

(3) Whether the sentence of death is excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases, considering both the crime and the defendant.

(d) Both the defendant and the territory have the right to submit briefs within the time provided by the High Court, and to present oral argument to the High Court.

(e) The High Court includes in its decision a reference to those similar cases, which it took into consideration. In addition to its authority regarding correction of errors, the High Court, with regard to review of death sentences, is authorized to:

(1) Affirm the sentence of death; or

(2) Set the sentence aside and remand the case for resentencing by the trial judge based on the record and argument of counsel. The records of those similar cases referred to by the High Court in its decision shall be provided to the resentencing judge for his consideration.

(f) The sentence review is in addition to direct appeal, if taken, and the review and appeal is consolidated for consideration. The court renders its decision on legal errors listed, the factual substantiation of the verdict, and the validity of the sentence.

(g) Decisions of the High Court affirming sentences of death are subject to review by the Governor.

(h) Decisions of the Governor affirming sentences of death are subject to review by the Secretary of the Interior.

 According to the law if the United States Supreme Court or the High Court of American Samoa declares the death penalty to be in violation of any provision of the Constitution of the United States or the Constitution of American Samoa, any killing in which the death penalty could otherwise be properly imposed shall be charged and, if convicted, punished as provided by law, except that, the defendant shall not be eligible for probation or parole until he has served a minimum of 40 years of his sentence.

The law does not provide how the death penalty is carried out.

The last person sentenced to death in American Samoa was Imoa of Fagatogo in 1939, who was hanged.



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