Jury delivers a 'not guilty' verdict in Sonny Tui drug trial
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A High Court jury has found Sonny Tui not guilty of two drug charges: unlawful possession of methamphetamine, and unlawful possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute.
This was after a third charge — authorizing illegal drugs into the territory — was dismissed.
The verdict was unanimous, following a two-day trial where the defendant testified, saying he didn’t know what was in the package he went to claim on the morning of Dec. 11, 2017.
Tui, who was held in custody for 16 months, had maintained his innocence since his arrest. Defense attorney, Marcellus Talaimalo Uiagalelei had argued that Tui had no knowledge of what was in the package.
The jury started deliberating at 2:23p.m. Wednesday afternoon, and the verdict was delivered two hours later.
LAST PART OF TUI’S TESTIMONY
(See yesterday's Samoa News for the initial part of the defendant's testimony).
According to Tui, two Customs agents arrived at the DHL Tafuna office and escorted him to the airport to pick up the package.
He said when he arrived at the Customs office at the airport, he saw a yellow box lying on a table — opened and ripped — and the 'Christmas gift' was scattered around. He said he saw a female Customs agent inside the same room, sitting on the other side of the table.
Tui said he told the Customs agents who were in the office with him, that he didn’t like the way the box looked, because they had already opened and ripped it — without him being present.
Tui said Customs agent Suafo’a walked to the table, picked up the box, and showed it to him. Suafo’a never asked him what was inside the box.
Suafo’a then opened another small box that was inside the package and pulled out a speaker before asking Tui what was inside it. Tui said he didn't know.
Uiagalelei asked his client whether he knew any person named Martinez Rodorigo of Mexico (the sender). Tui smiled and said, “Not at all.”
Prosecutor Christy Dunn said it was clear from the evidence the government presented to the court that the defendant went to the airport to claim his package containing a Christmas present from his wife and children. Inside that package was 110 grams of methamphetamine.
The government claims that the defendant told the Customs agent who searched the package that it was a Christmas gift from his family; however, when the Customs agent discovered something wrapped and hidden inside the speaker, Tui changed his story and said the package did not belong to him.
Uiagalelei told jurors that the government has the burden to prove their case, and it’s their job to decide the facts of the case and protect the rights of their fellow citizens.
He said the government did not present sufficient evidence to prove their case, because the illegal drugs they claim were inside the package, were never in his client’s possession. It was under the control of the Customs agent who conducted the screening process.
Uiagalelei said the element of the charge of unlawful possession is that a person must have under his/her control or possession, the illegal substance. For this case, his client never had the opportunity to touch the package.