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Judges postpone sentencing in attempted murder case of brother-in-law

Associate Justice Lyle L Richmond opted to postpone the sentencing in the case of Sitau Ofoia Jr, convicted of second degree attempted murder and two counts of first degree assault following a jury trial last month, on allegations that he struck his brother-in-law with his car and then struck him with a cricket bat.


After hearing recommendations by all parties in this case, including the testimony of family members, Richmond noted the court needed more time to determine the appropriate sentencing in this matter. The defendant was represented by Assistant Public Defender Mike White while prosecuting was Assistant Attorney General Julie Pasquale.


Presiding over the sentence hearing was Associate Justice Lyle L Richmond, who was accompanied by Associate Judges Mamea Sala Jr and Muasau Tasina Tofili. The defendant apologized to the court, the government, his village of Vaitogi, his church, his family and the victim, who is his brother-in-law, and pleaded with the court for a second chance.


The court also heard testimonies from family members of the defendant, including his father-in-law Ufuti Ieremia, Mase Akapo, Fa’amausili Mau Mau Jr and Sa Ulugaono. Ufuti noted that Ofoia serves his village, church and his family and he’s also dependable, given his heartfelt service.  


Ufuti, noted that since Ofoia wedded his daughter, he was always depended upon within their family and was among the leaders of the Village Police for the village curfews. According to Ufuti, Ofoia is also a Sunday School teacher, a member of the church youth group and swing choir. He further stated that he was saddened when he received word of the incident that involved Ofoia and his grandson (the victim), which is why his family did not file an official complaint, because he thought about his daughter who had just married Ofoia.


Ufuti then stated that, he cannot undo the past, however he wanted the court to know the good deeds of Ofoia. Judge Mamea asked Ufuti if Ofoia had conducted a traditional apology (ifoga), and Ufuti said the defendant knelt before him asking for forgiveness for what occurred, which was accepted.


Assistant Attorney General Julie Pasquale, told the court that although the court heard about a lot of Ofoia's good deeds in the past, yet the defendant also has a bad side.


She noted the defendant had been convicted of second degree assault in 2009 for which he was jailed for 20 months and was on probation for five years. While on probation, he has committed another crime and is again before the court. Pasquale concluded by recommending the court impose the maximum penalty allowable under the law for the defendant.


The court recessed for close to half an hour while the judges went to deliberate on the sentencing; however upon returning to the bench the judges opted to postpone the sentencing  to next week Wednesday, while the court determines what an appropriate sentence should be  in this matter.  


During the jury trial witnesses said that Ofoia, after drinking with the victim and other relatives and friends at the airport's Island Hut Restaurant, in the early morning hours of Apr. 8, 2012, got into an argument with the victim, after which the victim then proceeded to walk toward his home in Vaitogi.  


Witnesses say that Ofoia got mad and then took the truck from his wife (the victim’s sister), who had come to pick them up and turned the truck around and then drove the wrong way toward the guard shack at the airport entrance. The victim was walking and according to testimonies presented at trial, Ofoia struck the victim with his truck and according to several witnesses, the victim flew in the air and landed on the road.


At that point, Ofoia stopped his truck, got out, and grabbed a cricket bat from the truck, then hit the victim's head with the bat while the victim was lying on the road motionless. He then he drove off, leaving the victim on the road.


After the verdict was read in court, presiding Justice Lyle Richmond dismissed the Jury and remanded Sitau Ofoia to the custody of the Commissioner of Public Safety, where he was immediately taken into custody by police officers.


According to the government’s case on Apr. 8, 2012 police received a call about a man who was lying unconscious on the airport road. Police officers arrived at the scene and saw the victim lying unconscious while he was bleeding from his head. The victim also had an open wound on his back and left leg, court documents said. The victim was taken to the LBJ hospital where he underwent emergency surgery. 


When police interviewed Ofoia, according to the government’s case, he told them he was driving when a male crossed in front of his car instantly and he tried to avoid a collision by swerving, however he struck the young man. He said when he exited his vehicle, he found out it was his brother-in-law. Police impounded the vehicle, along with the bat alleged to have been used in the alleged assault.