Defense says Letasi drug case is based on “assumptions” not facts
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — During final arguments in the case between the American Samoa Government and Tautua Letasi, the defense attorney told jurors the government’s case against his client is all about “assumption”.
Day 3 of Letasi’s trial saw the government wrapping up its case after presenting all their evidence to the jury, which included testimonies from 6 witnesses (4 police officers, a representative from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in California, Lanye Higgins, and Letasi’s neighbor).
The case was presented to the jury for deliberations Thursday afternoon, following final arguments from both sides, along with final instructions from the court.
Assistant Attorney General, Woodrow Pengelly is representing the government, along with Assistant Attorney General, Bianca Lherisson and lead investigator, Det. Savelio Vaofanua. Letasi is represented by Assistant Public Defender, Ryan Anderson and the defense’s lead investigator, Eddie Fruean.
Letasi, who is out on a $60,000 surety bond, is charged with unlawful possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute; and unlawful possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, both felonies. He is also charged with two misdemeanor counts of possession of two unlicensed firearms.
Pengelly said in his final argument that the case is about drugs and guns found in the defendant’s possession on May 21, 2017, which prove he is a drug dealer.
He said the vehicle that was driven by the defendant on the day of his arrest, was not only a vehicle he had access to, but had driven multiple times.
Inside the vehicle was his daughter’s ID hanging in the front, and on the back seat was an unlicensed shotgun and a backpack in which illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia were later discovered by Det. Justin Thomsen, one of the government’s witness.
The government claims that when the defendant was asked who owns the backpack, he did not respond. "He just stayed silent.”
All the drugs allegedly found in the backpack were collected and sent off island for testing, and according to Pengelly, DEA senior chemist Higgins who conducted the test, testified and confirmed that the white crystalline substance he tested turned positive for methamphetamine.
Narcotics Detective John Paselio also testified telling the jury — based on his experience as a narcotics officer — that the drugs and drug paraphernalia found in the defendant’s vehicle and home prove that he is a drug dealer.
Pengelly told jurors that police also found over $1,600 cash inside the defendant’s backpack and the money was the from drugs Letasi was selling.
The prosecutor also pointed to the testimony of Letasi's neighbor in Aoloau. According to that witness’s testimony, it was around May 2017 that he started to witness a lot of people and vehicles at the defendant’s house.
The government claims this is further proof that Letasi was selling drugs from his home.
For the rifle and other drug paraphernalia that were found in the defendant’s home, Pengelly said it was Letasi's wife who allowed police to search their home, because she was tired and ashamed of people who were coming in and out of their house for suspicious reasons.
Pengelly said maybe Letasi’s wife wanted to put an end to her husband's illegal activities.
In closing, Pengelly said the defendant must be found guilty of all 4 charges against him.
Anderson did not take his role as defense attorney lightly. Despite the hard work the government carried out to prove their case, Anderson told the jury the case against his client is all based on assumptions.
He said Letasi is innocent until proven guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt.
“This is a case between the whole government of American Samoa against one innocent man,” Anderson said.
For the two misdemeanor counts of unlawful possession of two unlicensed firearms, Anderson told jurors his client has admitted to police that the two guns belong to him, but he did not have licenses for them.
For the first two counts of unlawful possession of illegal drugs, methamphetamine and marijuana with the intent to distribute, Anderson said the government failed to prove their case.
He said people who were coming to and from his client's home in Aoloau were people who came to assist his client with his plantation and other family work. They were not there to buy drugs.
The government claims they found a glass pipe containing meth residue at the defendant’s home, but Anderson argues there was no DNA or fingerprint test to prove that his client had access to the glass pipe.
Even the items that were discovered inside the backpack found on the back seat of Letasi’s vehicle, Anderson told the jury that the government failed to provide any proof — such as DNA or fingerprint tests — that his client owns these things.
“The government will argue that the reason why they did not present any DNA test or fingerprints for these items was because there is no facility like that on island to carry out such testing. So, I’m telling you today, that is not an excuse, that is a failure,” Anderson told the jury.
Of interest — Anderson referred to the credit card police found inside the backpack that contained drugs and paraphernalia and said the government did not present that piece of evidence because the credit card did not belong to his client. He argued that the person who owns the credit card that was inside the backpack is the same person who owns the backpack.
“My client had no knowledge of what was inside the backpack," he continued, adding that the backpack does not belong to Letasi. "Somebody else owns it."
The case is now in the hands of the jury.