Jury trial begins for a man who took cops on a high-speed chase
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Jury instructions and opening statements for the jury trial of a man accused of taking police on a high-speed chase back in Dec. 2017 began yesterday in High Court.
Manu Lefatia, who has been in custody without bail since his arrest Jan. 2018 is charged with first-degree assault and resisting arrest, both felonies, and third degree assault, a class A misdemeanor.
A six-member jury, all females was selected on Monday.
Lefatia, also charged in two other cases — including a case where he allegedly shot a man in Leone last August after he escaped from the TCF — is represented by private attorney Marcellus Talaimalo Uiagalelei while prosecuting are Assistant Attorney General Laura Garvey and Christy Dunn, assisted by Special Agent John Seumanutafa.
Garvey told jurors that Lefatia was the person who drove the red truck that put the lives of two cops in danger on the day in question; while Uiagalelei told jurors that his client was at home with friends, not behind the wheel as the government alleges.
GOVT’S OPENING STATEMENT
Garvey told jurors that on Dec. 24th, 2017 around 1:20am, Lefatia led police on a high-speed chase in Iliili, Vaitogi and Tafuna.
Six police units and several officers were involved in the chase and at some point, Lefatia pulled over at a parking lot in Ottoville in an effort to elude police.
Cops arrived at the parking lot and found Lefatia still inside the truck.
As officer Satia Leulu was trying to approach the vehicle, Lefatia allegedly drove the truck at a high speed towards Leulu's direction. Garvey said the truck almost hit Leulu, had he not moved to the other side of the parking lot.
The vehicle, with Lefatia behind the wheel, then continued off at high speed and the chase continued onto the public highway.
Cops lost sight of the vehicle, and they didn't know where Lefatia was heading.
With the help of some pedestrians, police were able to locate Lefatia in Vaitogi. Again, when police approached the truck, Lefatia was still inside.
Cops made an effort to talk to Lefatia who escaped — again.
Garvey said it was Det. Justin Thomsen who approached Lefatia and asked him to turn off his vehicle; however, Lefatia refused and drove off, at a high rate of speed.
Uiagalelei in his opening remarks told jurors that the government's case against his client is all about an exciting car chase between police and the driver of a red truck.
The defense lawyer told jurors that it wasn't his client behind the wheel of the truck; and testimony from some defense witnesses will prove that Lefatia was at home at the time.
“You see, there’s always two sides of a story. The government has already told you their side of the story; but I want you to listen carefully to all the witnesses the defense will call, so you can understand our side of the story,” Uiagalelei told jurors.
“After you hear all the evidence in this case, you will easily decide that my client Lefatia is not guilty of all the charges filed against him,” he concluded.
The trial resumes at 9 am today.
Presiding is Chief Justice Michael Kruse, assisted by Associate Judges Faamausili Pomele and Muasau T. Tofili.