Fireman who assaulted a boy with scissors gets 20 months

Defendant says he was angry and took the law into his own hands

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A 46-year-old fireman who was convicted of using a sharp weapon to cause head injuries to a 15-year-old boy was sentenced last week to 20 months and to pay restitution of  $5,000 to the victim as one of the conditions of his five-year probation.

Ropeti Muao was initially charged with felony first-degree assault, punishable by life in prison or at least 30 years in jail; but under a plea agreement with the government, Muao pled guilty to a lesser felony — second-degree assault — punishable by no more than 5 years imprisonment, or a fine of not more than $5,000 or both.

During sentencing last Friday, Muao apologized to the court and asked for a chance to return home to care for his family, especially his elderly mother who relies on him financially.

He also apologized to the victim and his parents.

Muao told the court it was not his intention to cause injuries to the “young son”  — the victim in this case — but he was unable to hold his anger after his niece reached out to him for help, and therefore he took matters into his own hands and assaulted the boy. Muao said he didn't think his actions would send him to jail.

“The truth of the matter is, it took me a short period of time to commit this crime but the consequence was that I wasted so many days of my life in prison," Muao said, adding that he's truly remorseful for what he did and begged the panel of judges for another chance.

In his plea mitigation, Public Defender Douglas Fiaui told the court Muao did not cause life threatening injuries or serious injuries to the victim. He said despite the report that his client’s action created serious head trauma to the victim, the boy was a young boxer prior to the incident.

Fiaui argued that being a boxer comes with head problems and he believes this is one of the contributing factors to the victim's head trauma, as stated in the pre-sentence report.

He said the incident, which resulted in Muao assaulting the victim, came about after the victim harassed Muao's niece.

The defense attorney asked the court to give Muao a probated sentence without further detention, adding that the 10 months his client has spent in jail has taught him a valuable lesson.

Assistant Attorney General Woodrow Pengelly said the defendant’s anger that day changed everything in his life, when he used a sharp object — a pair of scissors — to cause serious injuries to the victim’s head, which required stitches.

As a member of the DPS Fire Division, Pengelly said the defendant should've known better, when his niece reached out to him for help. He reminded the court that anger is not an excuse and the defendant must be punished for his crime.

Chief Justice Michael Kruse did not accept Muao's statement regarding the reason behind the assault.

“He was angered after his niece was offended by the victim’s actions, and using a sharp object to cause injuries to the victim’s head is a very serious action,” Kruse said.

He added that the injuries the victim suffered from the incident are the only injuries the court’s decision will be based on. The court took into consideration the defense argument that head problems the victim is facing could be a result of being a boxer.

“The court wants the defendant to understand that he is convicted of causing injuries to the victim’s head, after he struck him with a sharp object. The court never took into account this mitigating factor, that anger was the main reason for the defendant to commit this crime,” Kruse said.

Muao was then sentenced to 5 years, and a fine of $5,000

Execution of the sentence is suspended and Muao is placed on probation for 5 years, under certain conditions that include serving 20 months at the TCF, and paying a restitution of $5,000

The first payment of $1,022.58 shall be paid to the Clerk of the Court, who will forward the payment to the LBJ Hospital to cover the victim’s medical bills during the time he was admitted because of the injuries he sustained from the defendant’s actions.

The remaining balance shall be paid to the Clerk, and will not be released to the victim until he turns 18.

Other conditions of probation include the order that Muao shall not be given Trustee status at TCF.

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