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Court finds probable cause for prosecution in Leone shooting

District Court Judge Fiti Sunia
No weapon has been discovered, only empty rounds at the scene

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The preliminary examination (PX) for an inmate serving time at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) and now charged in connection with the alleged shooting in Leone last month, which wounded and hospitalized a male ended yesterday morning, with District Court Judge Fiti Sunia finding probable cause to bind all 6 felony charges against Manu Lefatia over to High Court for arraignment.

It was revealed during the hearing that perhaps the main reason why the alleged shooting took place was because of a female. Apparently, the young woman who was picked up by the victim and dropped off to another man’s home in Vaitogi is the mother of Lefatia's young son.

It was also revealed during the hearing that Lefatia has his own key to his cell.

Lefatia is facing seven charges, including 2 counts of first degree assault, a class A felony; one count of first degree attempted murder, a class B felony; 2 counts of unlawful use of a weapon, and one count of escape from confinement — both class D felonies; and one count of unlawful possession of a prohibited weapon, a class A misdemeanor.

He remains in custody, unable to post a $65,000 cash bond.

Prosecuting the case is Assistant Attorney General Christy Dunn, while private attorney Marcellus T. Uiagalelei is representing Lefatia.

At yesterday’s PX, the government called one witness, DPS Det. Justin Thomsen, who led the investigation.

According to Thomsen's testimony, it was around 4:40a.m. on Aug. 12, 2018 when he was informed of a shooting in Leone, and the primary suspect was a TCF inmate who was later identified as Lefatia.

Thomsen said when he and other cops arrived at TCF, he was told that one of the eyewitnesses, who is also the second victim, was being escorted to the TCF for a line-up viewing to confirm the identity of the primary suspect, as well as a second suspect who is alleged to have accompanied the primary during the alleged shooting.

Witness/ victim #2 identified Lefatia in the line-up as the alleged shooter, but was unable to confirm the identity of the second suspect, who was only known as a male by the name of “Ano”.

Thomsen spoke to victim #1 at the LBJ Hospital the same day of the incident, and he, too, identified Lefatia as the shooter.

According to the government’s witness, the two victims/ eyewitnesses are brothers.

The younger of the two was wounded during the alleged shooting but the older one was not.

Thomsen said the elder brother told him that sometime around 3:00a.m. on the day of the shooting, he was in his house, only a few feet from his younger brother's home when he heard dogs barking outside.

He said he came out to see what was going on and that's when he saw one shirtless male standing on his lawn facing his brother's house. He provided a physical description of the man and added that he could not speak Samoan very well.

The older brother said he asked the man if he needed anything, to which the man responded, "We're looking for Sopi". When the older brother asked the man to identify himself, he answered, "I'm Ano from inside TCF.”

The older brother said he noticed a second man almost crouched down by his brother's car near a dark area. The older brother identified the second man as Manu Lefatia.

The older brother told Thomsen he called his younger brother via cell phone to tell him he had inmates outside his home asking for him. He said he was still in his yard standing near "Ano" when his younger brother opened the door and came out. That's when, according to the older brother, Lefatia came out from behind the cover of a vehicle, raised what appeared to be a revolver and asked, "Ua li Sopi?" before he started shooting.

The older brother said he heard his younger brother yell, "Manu, it wasn't me". He claims Lefatia took three shots at his younger brother before he turned towards him and instructed him to come stand in front of him. He said he didn't move and Lefatia then motioned his firearm towards him. It was at that time the elder brother ran inside his house but heard two rounds fired at him.

Police officers searched Lefatia’s TCF cell and found clothing hidden underneath his bed in a laundry basket that were wet, and had mud skid marks and grass stuck to it.

The clothing matched the description given to police by the older brother.

Thomsen said when he interviewed victim #1 at the LBJ, he identified Lefatia as the shooter; and when asked why Lefatia would want to hurt him, the victim said the only thing he can think of, is that a week prior, he was asked by a male friend to pick up his girlfriend and bring her to him. He said he went to the Aute, picked her up, and then dropped her off at his friend's home in Vaitogi.

The victim said he later found out that the girl he picked up and dropped off was the mother of Lefatia’s child.

During cross-examination, Uiagalelei asked the witness whether there was a report from TCF that morning about an inmate escaping from confinement. Thomsen said no.

“So, how does a person who is held in custody accused of shooting another person while he was still inside his cell during the morning of the alleged shooting?” Uiagalelei asked.

Thomsen said that according to the two witnesses, Manu was the shooter, no one else. Not only did they see him, they also spoke to him.

When Uiagalelei asked whether his investigation was based on the information he received from witnesses that a young woman was the main reason for the alleged shooting, Thomsen said no, his investigation was based on statements from the two eyewitnesses who said Lefatia was the shooter.

Was there a weapon found at the scene?” Uiagalelei asked. Thomsen replied, “No, there was no weapon found, but there were empty rounds found at the scene.”

In delivering his decision, Judge Fiti Sunia said the hearing is to determine if there is sufficient evidence and if there is probable cause to try the defendant in court.

He said it's clear from the evidence the government presented to the court that there were two eyewitnesses who told police they saw Lefatia at their residence and he shot at both of them.

Sunia said despite the fact that police were unable to locate the alleged weapon, it's clear from the evidence that there were empty rounds found at the scene; and it's common sense that empty rounds come from a weapon.

After reviewing the evidence, Sunia said the court is satisfied that there is probable cause to support the government’s case and that a crime was committed.

Lefatia is scheduled to appear in High Court tomorrow morning for arraignment.