Jurors hear testimony from DEA chemist during Day 2 of Stowers drug trial
A police officer in the government’s case against alleged drug dealer Falaniko Stowers a.k.a ‘Nicole’ told the jury yesterday that 6 cut straws with crystalline substance inside were found in Nicole’s possession when police met up with him in front of the DPS central station in Fagatogo on Nov. 28, 2016.
This was the testimony of Det. Savelio Vaofanua yesterday, during Day 2 of Stowers' jury trial in the High Court.
Altogether, the government called 5 witnesses to the stand: two cops, one of whom is the DPS evidence custodian; an expert from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA); and two eyewitnesses.
Det. Vaofanua, along with Det. Johnny Paselio, were the ones who executed a search warrant on the defendant’s home. Vaofanua said that on their way to house, he and Paselio saw the defendant in a vehicle, driving from the residence.
The vehicle was stopped and Stowers was asked to step out, so they could inform him about the search warrant.
According to Vaofanua, when asked if he had anything in his pockets, like sharp objects or a weapon, Stowers stood up, started emptying his pockets, and said no. Vaofanua said he saw Nicole reach into his left pocket and remove something he tried to conceal in his shirt.
When asked by Paselio what it was, Stowers responded, “You know what it is.” Vaofanua said Stowers opened his fist and showed them 6 cut up straws with crystalline substance.
During cross-examination, defense counsel Asst. Public Defender Kate Hannaher asked the witness why they stopped the vehicle Stowers was riding in that day.
Vaofanua said they wanted to inform him about the search warrant. Hannaher then asked if it is normal practice for police to inform people before they search their home, and the witness said yes.
That day, Stowers was riding in a vehicle with two other people. When asked where the other occupants were when Stowers was taken in for questioning, Vaofanua said other cops were interviewing them.
DPS evidence room custodian, Officer Jennings, when called to the stand, said it was on May 18, 2017 that evidence collected for the Stowers case was sent to the DEA laboratory in Vista, California for testing.
Jennings said the evidence was sent off-island after she received a request from the AG’s Office and the results came back this past Tuesday.
She told jurors that only 3 of the 6 cut-up straws were sent off-island for testing, and all of them have been returned.
During cross-examination, Jennings said she was appointed as the new custodian in Dec. 2016, a few weeks after Stowers was arrested. When asked if she was the one who filled out the form for the evidence when Stowers was arrested, the witness said no.
When asked if her testimony is based on the report that was filed by the former custodian, Jennings said yes, she’s using notes on the report to refresh her memory.
Hannaher wanted to know from the witness whether any evidence from the case was lost when the evidence room caught fire last month.
Jennings said no.
Forensic chemist Annysia Martin from the DEA laboratory in Vista, California also took the stand yesterday.
Prior to her testimony, prosecutor Woodrow Pengelly tried to establish whether the witness was qualified to testify as a drug expert in the case.
Martin, who has been with the agency for over 10 years, testified that during her career with the DEA, she has conducted over a thousand drug tests, and she has also been called numerous times to testify regarding the tests she conducts.
Chief Justice Michael Kruse said the Court is satisfied that the witness can testify as an expert in the field.
Martin confirmed that she received a box containing evidence for the Stowers case. She testified that inside the box were 3 sealed envelopes, and inside each sealed envelope was a cut-up straw with a crystalline substance inside.
She said three different types of test were administered:
The GCMS test proved that the crystalline substance inside each cut up straw was methamphetamine.
The IR test proved that the crystalline substance was methamphetamine hydrochloride.
The Purity test proved that the crystalline substance was 98% methamphetamine.
The trial resumes today at 9:00 a.m.