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High Court grants work release for convicted rapist

Associate Justice Lyle L Richmond and Associate Judge Mamea Sala Jr have granted the request by convicted rapist Tone Pulou to work as a custodian at the headquarters of the Congregational Christian Church in American Samoa (CCCAS) located at Kanana Fou.

Pulou, a former teacher who pled guilty to raping his 13-year old female student, was sentenced to serve 28 months in jail as a condition of his ten year sentence.

The matter was continued from last week, where defense attorney Mike White requested that the court allow Pulou to be released for work in order to pay for his restitution ($5,560.21) and child support of $100 monthly.

However the court asked a representative from CCCAS to come before the court to testify on issues concerning this matter.

Along with White’s two page motion is a letter from the CCCAS main office, which is signed by General Secretary Reverend Reupena Alo and dated October 22, 2012. The letter is addressed to the Trial Division of the High Court of American Samoa as a “Letter of Hiring for Mr Tone Pulou”.

According to the letter, the CCCAS would like to hire Pulou as an employee of CCCAS, to work as a custodian or janitor at the main office.

During the hearing yesterday, White called to the stand CCCAS General Secretary Reverend who told the court the request for Pulou’s employment came from the CCCAS Ministry Chaplain who works at the Tafuna Correctional Facility.

Rev. Alo said the defendant will do janitorial work within the corporate office alone. He further explained to the court, the defendant can start working as soon as the Court grants the request for work release.

He added that when the request came in, the Executive Board discussed this matter and granted the request to give the defendant a job to work for the church.

White asked the defendant if the Church is able to pay the defendant’s wages to the court’s registry, in order to pay for restitution and child support.

Rev Alo said that is the Church’s intention. He also told the court the defendant will be paid minimum wages.

However, Deputy Attorney General Mitzie Jessop argued the defendant is a convicted rapist, and if he works as a custodian for the church then he will again have access to young girls. Jessop pointed out that during sentencing, the victim’s mother asked that the defendant stay as far away as possible from her daughter.

Deputy AG Jessop asked Rev Alo if he was aware the defendant was a convicted rapist. He replied, yes he’s aware. Jessop further asked the witness if he’s aware the defendant is convicted of raping his 13-year old student. Rev. Alo replied yes.

She then asked Rev Alo if there would be any young females in the vicinity where the defendant would be working. He responded that everyone that works at headquarters are adults, however the employees sometimes bring their children to their work place and he cannot do anything about it.

Jessop also asked about the two schools inside the compound of the church.

Rev Alo explained there are two schools within the church’s vicinity, the High School and the Elementary, which are about 100 meters from the headquarter’s office. He compared the distance and said it was about the distance “between the High Court and the Post office”

Associate Judge Mamea Sala also asked Rev Alo questions regarding students, whether they often go to the headquarters’ office. Rev Alo said, sometimes students come to the office to pay their fees, but not all the time, as parents usually come and pay their children’s fees.

Mamea also asked who will be supervising the defendant when he’s working. Rev Alo responded that he will be in charge of supervising the defendant during working hours.

Rev Alo further stated that hiring the defendant is a Goodwill Mission of the church to assist the defendant.

Mamea pointed out to Rev Alo that the court is “somewhat concerned, that the defendant is serving time for rape, and if we decide to grant work release can we depend on you to watch the defendant”? Rev Alo responded “yes.”

Deputy AG Jessop further questioned Rev. Alo if there were any other convicted felons which the church has hired in the past. He replied that this would be the first time.

Following a brief recess, Richmond announced that the motion for work release will be granted and noted that it would be from 7:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. from Monday to Friday.

Outside the court house, Rev Alo told the media that this was not an easy task for the church, given that after the article was published in the paper, he had many people calling him about this issue. However he said they thought about the baby, so they offered the defendant a job to help pay his child support.

The Deputy AG declined to comment on the matter noting that the court did their job and she did her job as a prosecutor.

Defense Counsel White on the other hand noted that he’s satisfied with the outcome of his request. “The judges gave it careful and reasoned consideration, and I am pleased that Pulou can now support his son without the government’s help and pleased that he can pay back the monies owed to the government.”

White also said that he was pleased that Pulou “can become a productive member of society and not just simply rot in jail while the taxpayers foot his obligations.”

He noted that churches should open their doors to help others, and that was the message of Jesus — to open the doors for all — as each of us has fallen short and has sinned.

“Each church will have to make its own determination as to what "criminal" to provide an opportunity to. We are taught to love the sinner, but hate the sin. Everyone should help our fellow mankind. It does not fall squarely on the church but I do think that the church should be at the front, leading the way.” White said.

“The forgiveness of sin is a basic concept of the teachings of Jesus. We can believe and practice it or we can simply pay it lip service. If the church does employ these people it will indeed practice what it preaches and we, too should follow their example.”

According to the government’s case, Pulou admitted in court he had an ongoing relationship with his student which led to the girl’s pregnancy, between September 2009 and February 2010.

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.