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ASG must fund Siaumau Jr. death penalty defense

The trial division of the High Court has ordered the government to pay $260,000 to the Public Defender’s office, which is representing Siaumau Siaumau Jr. charged in the murder of police Lt. Liusila Brown and the attempted murder of another police officer.

This order was issued on Monday morning, and Assistant Public Defenders Leslie Cardin and Mike White are representing Siaumau Jr. in this matter.

Public Defender Ruth Risch told Samoa News that the $260,000 seems like an awful lot of money, however under the American Bar Association Guidelines for handling a death penalty case there are things that must be done in order to guarantee that the client’s constitutional rights are upheld.

“Although I would rather see that this money be used at LBJ hospital, for example, and there are a lot of other things that this money could be used for — because the government is trying to put our client to death, it’s very important that he get the best representation possible,” said the Public Defender.

According to the five-page order, on April 25 and May 15, 2012 the defendant Siaumau Jr moved to set aside public funds for approved defense costs “payable from sources other than the inadequate funding presently budgeted for in the Public Defender’s office of the American Samoa Government.”

The order states that on May 17, 2012, because “ justification for this funding would at least partially and inappropriately reveal defense strategy in this action” and therefore the court in camera with defense counsel heard and granted the motions.” (In camera refers to “in the Judge’s chambers” or in private)

The order has it that on August 2, 2010 the government filed charges against the defendant for commission of 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 firearm, two faculty distinct count of unlawful possession of unlicensed firearm and public peace disturbance.

According to the order, the next day the government filed a notice of intent to seek the penalty of death in this case.

The order says that 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.

According to the order, no stone can be justifiably left unturned for capital cases, and the American Bar Association (ABA) has well-developed guidelines for the appointment and performance of defense counsels in death penalty cases. The order quoted 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.  

“ABA guidelines 4.1B, Defense Counsel are entitled to professional services independent of government,  and to protected confidential communications with the providers to the same extent counsel paying with private funds have.”

The defendant’s former private counsel, Aviata Fa’alevao was unable to further represent him due to medical reasons, and the defendant’s counsel has been replaced by Assistant Public Defender Leslie Cardin and Assistant Public Defender Mike White, who were both previously qualified to handle capital cases, and are renewing their qualification, according to the document.

“The funding sought by this motion is well justified as well as being cost effective compared to assembling a qualified capital defense team from outside of American Samoa [who]  quoted in excess of $1 million in the last homicide cases occurring and initially prosecuted as a capital case here earlier this decade,” the document notes.

According to the order, the government acting by and through the Attorney General of American Samoa, Treasurer, Director of Program planning and Budget development shall make funds available forthwith to pay up to the total amount of $260,000 during the current fiscal year ending September 30, 2012.

The order has it that this approved funding for defense costs in this prosecution is payable from a separate account and shall be included in ASG’s budget for the next fiscal year beginning on October 1, 2012 and ending on September 30, 2013, for the purposes of inclusion in the government’s next fiscal year’s budget.

The Public Defender shall provide during and for the budget development process estimated defense costs anticipated in this prosecution during the next fiscal year.

According to the order, which is signed by Associate Justice Lyle L Richmond and Associate Judge Mamea Sala Jr., this order shall be served on the Attorney General Fepulea’i Arthur Ripley, Treasurer Magalei Logovi’i,  and Malemo Tausaga the Program Planning and Budget Development Director or their representatives.