Fed Court considers U.S. gov’t motion to extradite Fletcher to Tonga
After hearing oral arguments early last week, the federal court in Honolulu has “taken under submission” the US government’s motion to extradite US citizen, Dean Jay Fletcher, to Tonga, where he is wanted for allegedly beating his wife to death last July on the couple’s boat, ‘Sea Oak’.
US District Judge Kenneth J. Mansfield heard oral arguments on the US Justice Department’s motion to extradite Fletcher back to Tonga on Jan. 10. Tonga authorities accuse Fletcher of escaping that country while charges were pending against him for the murder of his wife.
Fletcher landed in American Samoa on Oct. 3, 2016 and was taken into custody by local authorities, which later turned him over in mid November last year to US Marshal agents. Fletcher was then taken to Honolulu to await the extradition hearing to return him to Tonga.
Prior to the Jan. 10 hearing, Fletcher’s attorney, Melinda K. Yamaga, with the federal public defender’s office, argued that some of the evidence as presented by the government is not relevant and should be excluded.
For example, Fletcher objects to any references to allegations of interference with the course of justice and escaping from lawful custody, including any references to alleged attempts to dispose of evidence, and matters relating to the bed sheet.
“These charges are not sought in the extradition warrant and are therefore not relevant,” Yamaga argued.
On the issue of the bed sheet, the government said that based on evidence from the Tonga government that was provided through the Tonga’s extradition request, a witness — who had known Fletcher for about 10 years — told police that he observed on July 8, 2016 a “blood stained sheet” in the dinghy — which was used by the couple for transportation between their boat, the Sea Oak, and the harbor.
On the same day, the witness says he saw Fletcher submerge something into the waters, the government alleges. Divers later recovered what the witness recognized to be the same sheet, or bed sheet, he has seen in the dinghy from 30 meters below the surface of the harbor, the same area that the witness had claimed where he saw Fletcher submerge the sheet.
According to the government, DNA testing revealed that “brown staining on the sheet probably consisted of blood, but testing could not confirm the presence of blood.”
However, Yamaga argued that this assertion by the government “is incomplete and therefore a misleading summary of the actual forensic report,” which does not discuss the results of DNA testing.
“Therefore, the government’s statement that DNA testing revealed anything is simply false,” she further argued. “At best, the results of this forensic analysis are confusing and inconclusive.”
Yamaga’s motion revealed information that was not included in documents filed by USDOJ in court. According to the defense, a person — who resides in Tonga and knows Fletcher, allegedly told Tonga police that Fletcher “worked for the US Army and he was chased from there and imprisoned for injuring one of the American soldiers.”
Yamaga said Fletcher objects to such a statement, which has no merit. She suggests that the government get evidence from the original source — the US Army.
She also cited multiple statements by witnesses who claim to have observed Fletcher severely beating his wife on the dinghy on July 6. However, when the officers rode in the dinghy on July 7, they made no observations that suggest such a beating actually took place.
“There were no observations of anything broken, damaged or blood stains on the dinghy,” she argued. “The witnesses’ accounts defy common sense. There is no way such a horrific and sustained beating could have occurred on the small dinghy without it overturning.”
“Even more improbable is the suggestion that Mr. Fletcher was able to navigate successfully to the [Sea Oak] during this assault,” Yamaga further argued and points out that it’s “illogical that during this entire time” his wife never called for help to the multiple witnesses nearby.”
She said, “The three witnesses reported that they believed the beating they observed was severe enough that she would likely die, yet none made any effort to assist or report what they observed in broad daylight.”
“...We submit that the shoddy, improbable, and inconsistent evidence does not even meet a finding of probably cause,” Yamaga argued.