Alo: Jury deliberates nearly 9 hours before returning guilty verdict
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — It took almost 9 hours for the six-member jury to deliberate last Friday before delivering their verdict in the trial of former DPS police officer Okesene Alo.
Out of the 11 counts with which Alo was charged, the jury found him guilty of 7 counts. These counts include 3 counts of endangering the welfare of a child, all misdemeanors; 1 count of unlawful possession of a controlled substance, to wit; methamphetamine; 1 count of unlawful possession of a methamphetamine with the intent to distribute, and 2 counts of permitting escapes, all class D felonies.
The jury started their deliberation when the clock reached 12:15 p.m. on Friday afternoon, and they didn’t deliver their verdict until at 8:53 p.m.
Alo didn’t react much when the verdict was read. He turned to his right and shook hands with his two defense attorneys, Richard deSaulles and William Olson, before exiting the courtroom and meeting with family members who were waiting for him outside in tears.
deSaulles told Samoa News that the firm was appointed by Chief Justice Michael Kruse to take up Alo’s case, due to a conflict of interest with the Public Defender’s Office.
“I think both sides did a great job. Ultimately the jury, not only paid attention throughout the trial but they also stayed late tonight before they came to their decision,” deSaulles said.
Christy Dunn, who was the lead attorney for the government said, “I think the jury did a great job and they took their job very seriously.” Deputy Attorney General Lornalei Meredith accompanied Dunn in the case.
Kruse thanked members of the jury for their hard work. He said that it’s a hardship to serve as a juror, but by doing so, not only did they do an outstanding job but also helped the court to fulfill its duty.
“Without your effort, our court system here does not work. Once again, thank you so much for your hard work,” Kruse concluded.
Sentencing is set for Sept. 28, 2019.
His attorney informed the court that Alo has a separate case coming up later this year.
Meanwhile, Alo remains in custody, unable to post the $100,000 surety bond
Prosecutor Meredith presented the government’s closing arguments to the jury.
Once again Meredith told the jury that Alo was a police officer assigned to the Juvenile Detention Center (JDC) to protect the safety and care for detainees at the JDC. Instead, he did wrong. He gave them drugs, alcohol and even allowed them to leave the JDC without permission late at night.
“He allow and facilitated the young detainees to escape over and over again. He exposed these juveniles to bad behavior, and the worse thing was, he encouraged them to break the law. Juveniles detained in JDC have made mistakes and need help,” Meredith said.
“These juveniles were held accountable for their crime. Today (last Friday), the defendant will be held accountable for his crime. We gave you more than sufficient evidence to find him guilty on all counts.”
For counts 1 to 3, endangering the welfare of a child, Meredith told the jury that evidence the government presented showed that the defendant knowingly acted in a manner that endangered the welfare of 3 juveniles at the JDC by providing them alcohol and drugs, which damaged the health of these young children. He also admitted to Det. Amituana’i that he’s struggling with a meth addiction.
For counts 4 and 5, unlawful possession of meth, evidence shows that the not only did the defendant have meth in JDC, but he also smoked meth with two former police officers Alofagia Leteuli and Olafou Wilson, along with two other juveniles. Meredith told the jury when Alo smoked meth, he was in possession of meth.
For count 6 and 7, unlawful possession of meth with the intent to distribute, evidence presented proved that the defendant distributed meth inside JDC by giving it out to juveniles and also his former fellow officers.
For count 8, stealing, Meredith told the jury that it was clear from former officer Wilson and other juveniles that they saw the defendant take food from inside the JDC food supply room and take it to his vehicle without permission.
For counts 9 and 10, permitting escapes, the defendant allowed juveniles to leave the JDC compound late at night unsupervised without permission. He also allowed one to call his parent, and his parent picked him up and took him home. Between 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. in the morning, the parent dropped the juvenile in front of NAPA and the defendant picked him up and brought him back inside the JDC.
For count 11, aiding escapes, the defendant allowed one juvenile to escape from JDC by opening the gate for him, and allowing his parent to pick him up at night unsupervised.
“Today (last Friday), we’re asking you to do what the defendant failed to do. That is to protect the children of the territory. You heard more than sufficient evidence to find the defendant guilty, and we’re asking that you find the defendant guilty of each of these charges,” Meredith concluded.
Assistant defense attorney, Olson presented their closing arguments to the jury. He opened his argument by telling the jury that the government has the burden to prove their case, and it’s their job to decide the facts of the case.
“For this case, the government failed to prove their burden when they failed to provide you with a single piece of physical evidence to support their case against this loving man, who dedicated his life to protecting and serving the children of American Samoa in the JDC,” Olson said.
“The only evidence the government provided was the inconsistent and untruthful testimony of all of its witnesses, including two former police officers who have admitted to possession of meth and stole laptops from the JDC.”
Olson said that Alo voluntarily met with police during the times this incident was being investigated, and he even offered himself for a drug test. However, police ignored him.
“Where is the result of the drug test that was conducted on one of the juveniles at the JDC?” Olson asked. “No evidence, no photos taken, no log, no report to show what the government alleged to. They never searched Alo’s residence for drugs. They searched the JDC and they found no drugs.”
Olson said that one of the government’s witness, a former JDC detainee told 3 different stories to police. He first said that he found the meth while sweeping the JDC. He then said he got it from Alo’s bag. Later on he told police Alo gave it to him.
“Why did he lie to the police in the first place? His inconsistent testimony should give you doubt about this case,” Olson said.
For the two former police officers that had pled guilty to felony charges but turned around and testified against Alo, Olson told the jury that is a sign of untruthful testimony. They tried to let Alo suffer for what they did. Their testimony about smoking meth with Alo was based on their limited training about how to identify the difference between different types of drugs.
“I’ll ask you to do something important. You know the facts and you should ask yourself, how can I find Alo guilty for something he never did. There is no single piece of evidence the government presented to you to prove their burden. Alo is still innocent and I’ll ask you to do the right thing because the future of this loving and caring father is in your hands,” Olson concluded.
In redirect, Meredith told the jury that, “The job of the defense attorney is to attack the evidence and destroy it. You should do what this defendant failed to do, and that is to protect the future of these children. If you don’t invest in the children of American Samoa, you’re not investing in the future of American Samoa.”