Day 2: Court dismisses one of three charges against Sonny Tui
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Day 2 of Sonny Tui's jury trial saw the first witness for the defense take the stand —± the defendant himself. The prosecution had called all four of its witnesses on the first day.
Tui, who has been in custody since his arrest, unable to post a $40,000 surety bond, is charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance (methamphetamine); unlawful possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute; and authorizing illegal drugs into the territory.
After the government presented their side to the jury, private attorney Marcellus Talaimalo Uiagalelei, who represents the defendant, argued a motion for acquittal, to dismiss all three charges against his client.
The court responded by dismissing count 3, while counts 1 and 2 remain.
MOTION FOR JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL
According to the defense, the government didn’t meet its burden to prove their case against Tui beyond a reasonable doubt.
The motion was argued without the jurors present.
For counts one and two, Uiagalelei said the government failed to present to the jury any evidence to support any element of each charge. He referred to the testimony of the government’s first witness, Faifua Jr. Suafo’a, who said the package was placed inside the Customs office at the Tafuna airport, meaning the alleged white crystalline substance was under the control of the Customs agent.
“My client never had control of the package which contained the alleged illegal drugs, nor had he held it while questioned by Customs agents and police. According to Suafoa’s testimony, my client was standing inside the office watching while he was screening the package,” Uiagalelei said.
He then asked the court to dismiss counts one and two because of insufficient evidence. For count three, Uiagalelei argued that there is no evidence to prove that his client was trying to bring illegal drugs into the territory.
Prosecutor Assistant Attorney General Christy Dunn strongly opposed the defense’s motion, saying the government has presented sufficient evidence to support its case.
For counts one and two, Dunn said the only reason why Tui showed up at the airport that day was to claim his package. He was expecting a package and he knew what was inside.
Dunn said Tui’s name was on the package, meaning the package belonged to him. She said the agent from DHL contacted Tui on Dec. 8, 2017 to inform him that his package had arrived.
“So the only reason why the defendant showed up at the airport was to claim his package, because he knew the package belonged to him, not the DHL agent,” Dunn said.
She added that despite the defense’s argument that Tui never had the package in his hands, it was clear from when the package arrived at the airport that it belonged to Tui.
Dunn said it is similar to how Customs agents at the local Post Office conduct their screening on incoming mail. The person whose name is on the package is the one who owns it and has control of it.
Dunn asked the court to deny the defense’s motion.
Uiagalelei said the reason why Tui went to the airport was because he was invited by the DHL agent to come pick up the package.
Associate Justice Fiti Sunia wanted to know whether the DHL agent was acting on behalf of Tui when the package arrived at the airport on Friday, Dec. 8
Dunn said the DHL agent went to the airport to claim their cargo — including Tui’s package. Tui had used DHL services to ship the package to American Samoa.
In rendering his decision, Sunia said a judgment of acquittal could be only granted if the court feels that the evidence presented by the government is insufficient to prove their case.
He said possession, or having control of something, can be physical or not. In this case, the package was under Tui’s control, despite the fact that it was at the Customs office at the airport.
Sunia said the reason why the package was under the control of the Customs agent was because he was required under the law to screen the package and search it; however, the package belonged to the defendant.
Tui, 56, from Pago Pago was employed at the Dept. of Education for over 20 years. Before his arrest, Tui was an administrative assistant for the Samoana HS principal.
Tui told jurors that on Dec. 8, 2017 he received a phone call from a DHL agent around 5:30pm, informing him that a package containing his Christmas gift had arrived at their Tafuna office. Tui said he was not expecting a Christmas gift from anybody.
He said the agent asked him who sent the gift, and he said he didn’t know.
“I don’t know who sent me that Christmas gift. The only people I can think of that might've sent me a Christmas gift would be my wife and children,” Tui said, recalling his conversation with the DHL agent over the phone.
According to Tui, the agent asked him what was inside the package, and he told him he didn't know because he’s not sure who sent it.
The agent then instructed him to stop by their office in Tafuna to pick-up the package in 20 minutes before they close. Tui said he told the agent he can't because he doesn’t have a ride. He said he asked the agent if he can come on Monday, Dec. 11 and the agent said yes.
Tui said he went straight to the DHL office in Tafuna to pick up his package on Monday; but when he got there, he was told by an employee that his package was being held at the Customs office at the airport, and the Customs agents are on their way to drop it off.
More on Tui's testimony in tomorrow's edition.
The trial resumes at 9a.m. today.