A 30-year-old man, whose mother told the court her son changed after serving 3 1/2 years in the US Armed Forces, has been sentenced to jail time in connection with a handful of break-ins between December 2016 and February this year.
Daniel Taufua, was sentenced last Friday in High Court along with his co-defendants Nassan Tupuola and Aki Lee Jungblut, both accused of aiding Taufua’s get-away by driving the vehicle from the crime scene.
Taufua was sentenced to 28 months imprisonment after he pled guilty under a plea agreement to three counts of felony stealing.
He admitted to stealing more than $3,000 in cash from local businesses and said the crime spree occurred between last December and February this year.
The defendant was initially charged in two separate cases — in the first case, he was charged with two counts of first degree burglary and three counts of felony stealing. For the second case, he was charged with several felony counts including stealing, robbery, and first degree burglary.
Under a plea agreement, the defendant pled guilty to three counts of felony stealing and the remaining charges were dismissed.
During sentencing, Taufua sought leniency so he could return home to find a job and take care of his mother. He said the five months and six days that he spent in custody — since his arrest — has been a learning lesson.
He said what he did was wrong and he is remorseful of his crime. He also asked the owners of the businesses that he robbed to forgive him.
Testifying as a character witness, Taufua’s mother told the court that her son is not a bad person, but a good individual, who works hard and loves his family. She noted the changes in her son’s behavior since returning from serving in the military for 3 1/2 years.
The court asked the witness if Taupua served in Iraq and the mother replied, “no”. She suspects that the time that Taupua was away from his family, while serving in the military, has something to do with the change in her son’s behavior, as well as his mentality.
The mother also shared with the court her serious concerns, when after five days, she had not seen her son and thereafter contacted police for help. She claimed the police told her that her son is an adult and not a child, and there is no need for her to try to find him.
She testified that as a mother, she wanted to find her son due to her concerns over the possible problems affecting her son’s state of mind and she also wanted to make sure that he was okay. She said she was surprised to be informed later by police that her son had been arrested, charged, and in custody.
She asked the court for leniency in its sentence and promised to find a spiritual program off island to enroll her son in, to help with the problems he is facing.
Taufua’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Michael White, asked for a probative sentence without any jail time, but Assistant Attorney General Gerald Murphy argued for the most serious punishment set by law.
Acting Associate Justice Elvis P. Patea asked what that serious punishment is and Murphy replied, that felony stealing is punishable by 7 years imprisonment, which is what the government wants.
Taufua was sentenced to 7 years probation under several conditions, which includes serving 28 months behind bars.
The pre-trial confinement days are counted towards the jail term. He was also ordered to pay a $2,000 court fine and restitution totaling $3,310 — $180 to a laundromat in Iliili; $130 to a store in Nu’uuli; and $3,000 to a business in Fagaima.
During his probation, Taufua is prohibited from entering the three businesses he robbed.
Next up for sentencing were Taufua's co-defendants, who were each sentenced to 12 months imprisonment after the pair pled guilty — under separate plea agreements — in assisting Taufua carry out his crimes.
Jungblut admitted to being the driver of the getaway car in the robbery of two business establishments while Tupuola admitted to driving the getaway car in the third robbery.
Assistant Public Defender Michael White argued for a probative sentence for each defendant without any jail time, but Murphy again argued for the highest punishment outlined under the law, which is 5 years in jail for each defendant.
Both defendants asked for leniency during sentencing and each of their wives offered character witness testimonies. Tupuola’s wife asked the court to allow her husband to be out, so he can look for a job to provide for the family. She described Tupuola as a hard working person, a good father to their children.
Jungblut’s wife offered similar testimony, saying that she was shocked to learn of her husband's arrest, because her husband is a good man and great father. She added that every time she and their three-year-old child visit Jungblut in jail, she has observed many changes.
She said that it’s a very difficult time for their child, who is very close to her father and wants to stay with him. She pleaded with the court to allow her husband to come home to take care of his family, and find a job.
Jail time for each defendant is part of the conditions of their five-year probation.
The court sentenced each defendant to 20 months in jail, but 8 of the months are waived and each is to serve 12 months.
The 8-months is conditioned on the fact that each defendant complies with all conditions of probation, which includes that each pays a $1,000 court fine, and restitution to the affected businesses. The court will decide the restitution amount.
Upon release from jail each defendant is to perform 200 hours of community service, unless they find employment to pay for the court ordered fine and restitution.
Patea told the defendants to use the chance the court is giving them wisely, because the government had argued for 5 years for each defendant. Patea reminded the defendants that this is the opportunity for them to change their lives and find employment.
Pre-trial confinement for each defendant is counted towards their jail term.