Court sentences man to 5 years for assaulting his domestic partner
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A 50-year-old man convicted of assaulting his partner by poking her neck with a knife and punching her in the face multiple times is going to jail.
Aukusitino Fanene, who has been in custody since his arrest last year, unable to post a $10,000 surety bond was sentenced to five years in prison — straight sentence.
Public Defender Michael White represented Fanene, while Assistant Attorney General Laura Garvey prosecuted on behalf of the government.
Fanene was initially charged with first-degree assault and false imprisonment, both felonies, punishable by imprisonment of up to 5 years, a fine up to $5,000 or both.
But under a plea agreement with the government, Fanene pled guilty to the amended count of second degree assault. The remaining charge was dismissed. With his guilty plea, Fanene admits that on May 20, 2018 he knowingly caused physical injury to the victim by poking her neck with a knife and punching her in the face multiple times.
Before the court handed down its sentence, Fanene, in his own words, said he's ashamed for what he did to his partner, who is also the mother of his children.
He apologized to the court, the government and the people of American Samoa, his “lovely and wonderful partner”, his children, and especially to his family and village.
He said he used his time wisely in prison, working with some church groups and organizations to help develop programs that will save the lives of many local young people with problems, especially mental issues.
“I’m truly remorseful for what I did. All I ask for is your leniency. I want to go back home and rebuild my family with my partner and children,” a teary eyed Fanene said.
Counsel White told the court that Fanene has accepted responsibility for what he did, and has spent over 11 months in jail. White presented to the court letters of support for his client from members of the community, including a letter from the prison Chaplain and his church pastor.
White said that according to the letters, Fanene worked hard for his family, despite what he did to his partner. He then asked the court to sentence his client to probation without any additional jail time.
The prosecutor did not agree. Garvey said Fanene has a criminal history in High Court, and she asked that Fanene be sentenced according to the law.
Associate Justice Fiti Sunia summarized the case, before handing down the court’s decision. “What struck us about this case is the danger of the defendant’s action when he placed the knife to the victim’s neck,” Sunia said.
“What you did was dangerous” Sunia continued. “It was a few seconds away from death. When you placed that knife to your partner’s neck, you were putting her life in danger.”
Sunia reminded Fanene that he was initially charged with first degree assault, a class A felony which carries a life sentence; however, the government agreed to amend the most serious charge to the lesser charge of 2nd degree assault, a class D felony.
Sunia turned to counsel White and said, “Don’t let that class D felony mistake the danger and the seriousness of what this defendant did. He put the life of the victim in danger by placing a knife to her neck.”
He also reminded White that Fanene has history in High Court, dating back to 2000. According to Sunia, Fanene was placed on probation for 2 years in 2013 after he was convicted of third degree assault, which was amended from second-degree assault under a plea agreement.
According to court records, for that case, a witness told police he saw Fanene strike another man 8 times with a folding chair on the head and body, causing injuries.
Sunia told Fanene that the court has tried so hard to give him many chances in the past, by placing him on probation and offering him counseling to assist with his anger issues. However, it seems that he hasn’t learned his lesson.
“So now, we don’t know what to do. The only option for us is to let you stay at TCF [prison] until you learn a good lesson,” the judge said, before sentencing Fanene to 5 years — straight sentence.
Sunia said the court gives the authority to the Parole Board so Probation will not be involved. “So Mr. Fanene, address your leniency and rehabilitation pleas to the Parole Board,” Sunia concluded.