Court finds probably cause to prosecute in Godinet Jr. drug case
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The preliminary examination (PX) for the third defendant in the Pago Pago drug raid last May where cops allegedly found illegal drugs took place this past Wednesday, with District Court Judge Fiti Sunia finding probable cause to bind Sio Godinet, Jr. over on 6 charges, while two charges were dismissed.
In delivering his decision, Sunia pointed out that despite strong opposition from the defense team, claiming that police never found Godinet Jr. inside the small room of the two-story structure where illegal drugs were allegedly discovered, it was clear from the evidence that “he was responsible for the conduct of another person.”
Sunia cited part of the statue (46.2307), which supported the government’s case against Godinet Jr., where he was charged with aiding another’s person criminal act.
Godinet Jr. was charged with 8 counts all together, which included 4 new charges, along with the 4 old charges that were filed against him in the case dismissed by the court three weeks ago.
The new charges against Godinet Jr. include unlawful possession of a controlled substance, methamphetamine with intent to distribute; unlawful possession of a controlled substance, methamphetamine; unlawful possession of a controlled substance, marijuana with intent to distribute, and unlawful possession of a controlled substance, marijuana — all class D felonies.
The government is also accusing Godinet Jr. of aiding, agreeing or attempting to aid Meriko Lomu and/ or Lyon Grey in unlawful possession of illegal drugs, and unlawful possession with the intent to distribute.
These charges stem from the execution of a search warrant on May 15 of this year, on Godinet Jr.’s alleged home in Pago, and where illegal drugs along with drug paraphernalia were allegedly found.
The 4 old charges are the same as the new charges, but stem from a separate incident that happened where a controlled buy using a confidential informant (CI) was executed in April 2018. In this incident, the alleged exchange of cash and drugs was conducted inside Godinet Jr.’s vehicle, and the defendant was present.
It was after this incident that the police then asked the court for a search warrant that was executed on May 15 on a house allegedly belonging to Godinet Jr.
After reviewing evidence in the case, Sunia stated that the government was unable to present probable cause and sufficient evidence to bind counts 1 & 2 in the old charges, of unlawful possession of a controlled substance, methamphetamine with intent to distribute; unlawful possession of a controlled substance, methamphetamine.
Therefore, the two charges were dismissed.
The defendant has been in custody since he was arrested on May 15, unable to post a $50,000 cash bond. However, following his PX this week, Sunia ordered that his cash bail be reduced to a $30,000 surety bond.
Prosecuting the case is Assistant Attorney General Christy Dunn, while Assistant Public Defender Ryan Anderson is representing the defendant.
During Wednesday’s PX, the government called one witness, Police Det. Justin Thomsen who led the investigation in this case, while the defense also called one witness, the Public Defender’s Office Deputy Investigator, Eddie Fruean, who is a former cop.
Thomsen’s testimony this week was mostly the same as the testimony he gave during Godinet Jr.’s first PX last month, which resulted in the case being dismissed by Sunia, after the court was unable to find probable cause and sufficient evidence to bind the case over to High Court for arraignment.
At the time, Sunia stated that there were two alleged incidents that happened at two separate times, and one cannot be used to substantiate the other. For this reason, the case against the defendant was dismissed. (See story in July 5, 2018 edition of Samoa News for details.)
This time, the government filled charges from each of the alleged incidents — a controlled buy that happened in April 2018, and the execution of a search warrant of houses that are allegedly owned by Godinet Jr. for drugs.
For the controlled buy — according to Thomsen, it was around February this year when a ‘confidential informant’ (CI) provided information to the Vice & Narcotics Unit, regarding a home in Pago Pago, which was allegedly being used for a drug business.
According to the officer’s testimony, the alleged drug business was led by Godinet Jr., along with another individual by the name of Lomu; and the alleged drug business was being conducted at a specific location, and in a specific house. The CI also told police of the suspicious traffic of vehicles and people going in and out from this specific home in Pago Pago, mainly at night.
Thomsen stated that the CI was among those people who allegedly bought illegal drugs such as marijuana and methamphetamine from this home; and that he also witnessed the time when money and illegal drugs were exchanged between Godinet Jr. and people who came to his home to allegedly buy drugs.
A controlled buy was then organized by police officers around April of this year; and police officers gave the CI cash to buy drugs from Lomu. According to Thomsen, Lomu was with Godinet Jr. inside Godinet Jr.’s vehicle when the controlled buy took place.
Thomsen stated that the alleged exchange of cash and drugs with Lomu was conducted inside the vehicle while Godinet Jr. was also present.
For the execution of the search warrant, Thomsen said after the controlled buy was conducted, police officers then asked the court for a search warrant for the two-story structure belonging to Godinet Jr. The search was conducted on May 15 where police found drugs and paraphernalia inside a room on the first floor of the two-story structure.
Godinet Jr. was not found inside the room where the illegal drugs were allegedly found. He was found inside his alleged primary home a few feet away from the two-story structure without any drugs in his possession.
Thomsen stated that police found three individuals inside the two-story structure. Two were found inside the room with a quantity of illegal drugs, while the other individual was found hiding at the inside corner of the two-story structure. This individual was also arrested but was later released by the government.
The defense called their witness to the stand after the government presented their evidence to the court.
According to the defense, the house where the illegal drugs were allegedly found does not belong to Godinet Jr.
Defense deputy investigator Fruean who took photos of the debit meter and the electric bills of the two-story structure and the house where Godinet Jr. was found, told the court that the names on the debit meter and the electrical bills proved that Godinet Jr. does not own the house.
Anderson then stated to the court that somebody else must be responsible for all the alleged illegal activities that were going on inside the two-story structure, but it was not Godinet Jr.
Judge 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 then ruled that the court is satisfied with evidence presented by the government that a crime was probably committed.
Godinet Jr. is scheduled to appear in High Court this morning at 9a.m for his arraignment.