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Court order stands, gov’t must give the defense all names of witnesses in Siaumau case

American Samoa High Court building

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Associate Justice Fiti Sunia reiterated, yesterday morning, the High Court’s order for the government to provide the names of all witnesses to Thomas Siaumau’s defense team. Siaumau is accused of shooting at a police vehicle in December 2017.

The case goes to trial in two weeks.

In a second appearance on the matter this week, yesterday’s court hearing was on the government’s motion — that of seeking a Protective Order for its witnesses.

Defense attorney, Holladay, along with co-counsel Richard de-Saulles appeared on behalf of Siaumau, who was not present in court, while Assistant Attorney General Christy Dunn is prosecuting.

When the case was called, Sunia said the reason the court set the matter on its calendar — despite having ruled on Tuesday that the names of all the government’s witnesses in the Siaumau case be turned over to the defense — was because there is a pending motion from the government filed last year asking the court for a Protective Order for their witnesses that had not been heard by the court.

Dunn said former prosecutor Woodrow Pengelly, who originally handled the case, filed the motion last April. “Ever since Chief Justice Michael Kruse ruled that the government is not entitled to turn over to the defense side the identity of its witnesses, according to Rule 16 of Criminal Procedure, this motion was never brought before the court,” she said.

 Sunia asked Dunn about her position on the motion.

The prosecutor said the government still feels that it’s their responsibility to protect the identity of all their witnesses. For the motion before the court, Dunn said the government doesn’t know what to do, because the court has already ruled to turn over the witness list to the defense.

“So what do you want us to do?” Sunia asked.

Dunn said she is asking for a delay in disclosing the identities of the witnesses, in case the defense makes a motion against it.

Holladay argued that the court has already ruled in favor of the defense and ordered the government to turn over the names no later than Friday this week. “I don’t see why the government has to wait until Friday to turn over the names of their witnesses. Why not today?” he asked.

“We have no time left before the trial and we need to move forward with our investigation by interviewing these witnesses to tell us their side of the story and what they know about the alleged incident,” he said.

Dunn said the government would turn over the names by Friday as ordered by the court, but not today. “It’s about protecting the safety of these witnesses and to make sure they are aware of the court’s order," she said, adding that the government needs more time to speak to its team of investigators who are dealing with the case, to inform them about the court order, so they can inform all of the government’s witnesses about it.

“These witnesses are fearful for their safety because they understand who this defendant is and his family," she said, adding that it is the government's duty to inform the witnesses about the next step, and let them decide whether they want to talk to the defense or not. That’s their individual decision to make,” Dunn said.

Holladay fired back and said his client is in custody and he will not get an opportunity to speak to these witnesses individually, nor can he do anything to harm any witness.

“Our team of investigators will do the work for our client, not our client or his family. And we want to make sure that the rights of these witnesses are well protected,” Holladay told the court.

He said he understands the government’s concern but in order for his client to get a fair trial, their team needs to speak to the government witnesses before then.

After hearing from both attorneys, Sunia said the court’s order to reveal the names of all the government’s witnesses still remains.

For the defense team, Sunia added a special condition for the defendant, and that is, he is not to make any contact with any of the government witnesses or their families.

“Mr. Holladay, inform your client that this is a very special condition from the court and he has to comply with it.

“He is to have no direct or indirect contact with all of the government witnesses, including their families. Your client and/or his family shall not make any effort to contact these witnesses in any way or anywhere in this territory. The only people who can speak to these witnesses or their families are the attorneys from your office,” Sunia told Holladay.

Sunia told Holladay that if at anytime the court hears testimony from any of these witnesses during the trial, that the defendant or any members of his family were trying to interfere or talk to them, the burden would be on the defendant.

Siaumau is being held in custody without bail. He is scheduled to appear in court this morning for a special hearing — the one scheduled by the court on Monday to make sure the names of all the government’s witnesses are turned over to the defense.