Court sentences man to 30 years for armed robbery

Kruse: There are a lot of aimless youth in our society
ausage@samoanews.com

The young man who robbed 9 Asian stores, including a store in Malaeimi at gunpoint, and making off with the cash register containing $260 last year, was sentenced last Friday to 30 straight years behind bars — meaning no conditions for probation, no work release. But, he was not ordered to pay restitution of any amount for his crime.

The sentence was handed down by Chief Justice Michael Kruse, accompanied by Associate Judges Fa’amausili Pomele and Muasau T. Tofili.

David Fo’a was convicted of one count of armed robbery — a class A felony — punishable by life imprisonment, and/or a prison term of not less than 10 years, and not more than 30 years; and 8 counts of misdemeanor stealing — a class A misdemeanor, punishable by not more than 1 year imprisonment, or a fine of not more than $1,000 or both for each count.

Fo’a was initially charged with nine courts of first degree armed robbery. However,  under a plea agreement with the government, the defendant pled guilty to one count of first degree armed robbery, and the rest of the charges were amended down to misdemeanor stealing.

According to the government, the defendant began his robbery spree on Nov. 28, 2016 up until the evening of Dec. 4, 2016. During that time period, Fo'a burglarized nine Asian stores - located in Nuuuli, Iliili, and Tafuna - using a stone and knife to threaten cashiers and storeowners, before taking off with money and items, such as cigarettes.

The robbery spree became heinous when the defendant, accompanied by co-defendant, Fa’asi’i Aupaau, used a small handgun to threaten the cashier at a store in Malaeimi, while Auapaau took the cash register containing $260.

During sentencing, Fo’a apologized to the Court for his actions and begged for a second chance to return home to care for his mother because his father passed away in April while he was incarcerated.

Fo’a told the Court that he is truly remorseful for what he did, and he assured the judge that he will never break any laws, adding that if he is given another chance, he will do everything he can to change his life and look for a job, so he can pay restitution.

The eldest of four children, Fo’a said he really wants to go back home to help his sister - the only one working at this time - and continue his service to his family, village and church.

His mother and uncle took the stand, apologizing to the Court for Foa’s wrongdoing, and begged the Court for leniency and a second chance for him to return home to care for their family.

Foa’s mother said there’s been a huge change in the family, especially in Foa’s life, since his father passed away.

“My son was the right hand man of our family," she said. "He cared for his father while he was fighting cancer, and when his father died this year, everything changed so quick in our family. Perhaps this is why my son’s life changed, because there is no one who can look after us and provide for us. Please, give my son a second chance. I really need him to come home to care of me and my younger children.”

The defendant’s uncle asked the Court to release Fo’a to him, so he can teach him a lesson and help him with his life.He told the Court that he was so shocked to hear about what happened, because this is not the kind of life this young man was living when his father was alive.

“He is a very quiet kid. He loved to go to church, he joined the youth choir, and loved to look after his father ever since his father was diagnosed with cancer. I know prison is not a good place for Fo’a, and I beg the Court to please allow him to come home so that I can help him with his life,” the uncle said.

Foa’s attorney, Douglas Fiaui told the Court that in the more than 20 years in his practice, this is the first time he has come across a case like this, where a young man in facing serious charges for burglarizing almost ten stores.

Fiaui said he believes everyone is affected by his client's actions, not only the victims but also his family. He has a hole in his life and it will take time for him to come out from the darkness.

He then asked the court to sentence his client to 30 years in prison, under the condition that he serves 10 years behind bars, and 20 years probation.

Prosecutor, Woodrow Pengelly disagreed and asked the Court to order a straight sentence.

“The defendant was targeting Asian stores by burglarizing nine stores at night, using a knife, a stone, and a shotgun to threaten store owners and cashiers, and stole money and other stuff,” said Pengelly.

Kruse intervened and told the prosecutor that he just wanted to clear up something, saying that a straight sentence and a probated sentence are quite the same thing.

“Straight sentence is, after you've served one-third of your sentence, then you’re out - the outcome is actually the same - but a probated sentence is under the Court’s supervision. I can do 30 years, but I can’t dictate terms because the law is clear,” said Kruse.

Kruse said someone needed to explain to the Court why this young man made such a horrible move, to target only Asian stores and stealing money and goods for himself.

He said there are a lot of aimless youth in our society, who don’t aim to do good things in the future, and a lot of them are either immigrants - or children of immigrants.

“We need to ask why these things continue to happen in our society," said the Chief Justice. "The Court found out that only a few children of immigrants are employed by the government. Why are we continuing to be the host? I have my own reason as to why, but I’m not going to give it out,” Kruse continued.

After a 40-minute deliberation, Kruse announced the sentence for Fo’a.

He said the only two factors the Court is taking into consideration is the age of the defendant, and that he is from the class of those aimless youth who have no hope for a good future, unless the government does something about it.

Speaking about what happened, Kruse said the reason why the defendant was caught was because the Asian stores had video cameras. Police were able to take the video footage from one of the affected stores, with a picture of the defendant inside, and aired it on KVZK-TV - appealing to the public for someone to help identify the person on tape.

According to Kruse, it was Foa’s co-defendant who saw the footage on TV, and agreed to call the police. He said that if the defendant had not been caught, he would continue to rob more Asians stores.

“To the Attorney General, who is the face of the community in the Court, this is our recommendation. Unless you dig deep to find the cause of this problem, you'll need to build a big jail,” said Kruse.“While the government is asking for a straight sentence, that is our sentence; but we want to point out that a probated sentence and a straight sentence are not different.”

For first degree armed robbery, Fo’a was ordered to serve 30 years in jail - a straight sentence. For eight counts of misdemeanor stealing, he was ordered to served 1 year in jail for each count - both sentences will run concurrently.

Kruse ordered the prosecutor to direct the Police Commissioner to look into Chapter 46.2001 of the American Samoa Code Annotated - dealing with restitution - and also chapter 46.2501 dealing with treatment.

Kruse said that under 46.2521 - the Commissioner is to provide a rehabilitation program for prisoners.

And because Fo’a did not graduate from high school, Kruse also ordered the prosecutor to direct the Commissioner to provide an education program for the defendant while in custody, to make sure he registers for the GED program at the American Samoa Community College (ASCC).

“The bottom line is, every time the government asks for a straight sentence, you’re giving the Commissioner and the Parole Board work to do,” Kruse concluded.

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